My Hardest Decision

Every time I meet with students or sit on a panel, I wait.

“C’mon, ask me. I have an answer. Please ask me,” my inner monologue begs. I wait and the question never comes.

The question that never comes is: What is the hardest decision you have had to make in your career?

The answer to the question has evolved over the years. When to fire a client, workplace bullying, ensuring the P&L report shows more “P” than “L” have all taken center stage at some point in my career. All of those challenges were trumped when my volunteer self was faced with a PR dilemma.

It started a few years ago. I served on an auxiliary board (it was a non-governing body) for a non-profit organization. I was two years into my volunteer service, when the organization faced a crisis communication issue. As the situation evolved, I put my APR to work and offered free counsel. After all, my relationship with the organization ran deep and I was devoted to their mission. By applying basic PRSA ethics, the crisis situation was manageable and possibly offered an opportunity for the organization to grow, learn and improve.

I stated my case and outlined my professional credentials. My counsel was rejected.

Was it an ego blow? Maybe. However, my ego has taken hits through the years and I recover quickly. What I could not tolerate was that the organization blatantly violated the PRSA Code of Ethics (specifically the code value of honesty and the code provision of disclosure of information). Adding insult to injury, it seemed like everyone employed by the organization was fine with it. “Status quo,” “get back to normal,” and “media has moved on” were the messages I received. If it had been a client, I would have pushed back hard and I would not have been subtle about it.

I had a decision to make: As a volunteer, could I be linked to an organization that violated my professional ethics?  I decided to quietly walk away as a volunteer, donor and advocate.

Fast forward 20 months from my decision to walk away and the organization faced another crisis situation. The new crisis came with heavier, life-changing, no-looking-back type of consequences. The same tactics that lead to my decision to walk away were being used for the new crisis. The organization did not fare well.

Suddenly, I was looking back. What if I had not simply walked away? What if I approached my role as a volunteer as vehemently as I do my role as a professional? Could I have changed the course of the organization? Should I have fought harder for the ethical way to handle a crisis situation? Could the damage done have been minimized?

Oddly, the hardest decision I have had to make in my career involved my role as a volunteer and I question my decision to walk away often.

What would you have done? How deep do our responsibilities go as professionals and volunteers? Email me with your feedback or tweet with #PRSAHoosier #Decision.

VSTILES-300x300Vanessa Stiles, APR is president and founder, of Victory Sun, Inc. Fueled by a passion for her native state of Indiana, she focuses Victory Sun’s resources and talents on successfully serving companies and organizations that positively impact Indiana’s economy and future. Stiles is serving on the PRSA Hoosier chapter’s Local Host Committee for the 2016 PRSA international Conference, has served as the chapter’s APR co-chair, ethics director and 2014 chapter president. A 1992 graduate of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, Stiles is an active volunteer, frequent donor to organizations that feed her passions, devoted to completing one half marathon each year and a soft-hearted dog lover.