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Morning Mess: Crisis management

I always find it fascinating how big companies, big personalities, and big governments do damage control.

From Tiger Woods’ golf club through the SUV, to RIM’s disastrous year with Blackberry, to the recent turmoil at city hall involving Councillor Montague and Mayor Shari Dector Hurst, the reality is, nobody sees a crisis coming.

And very few know how to manage a crisis properly.

This week, I offer a step-by-step guide on how to manage a crisis. Mis-handling a crisis will have serious consequences. For many, the consequences come quick, as in a termination, immediate demotion, and as we are seeing with General Patreus, possibly even jail time.

But in the end, when something "hits the fan", follow these steps and minimize the damage to you personally, your brand, your organization or to your company:

1.) Brutal honesty. Did you have an affair? Did your company drop the ball? Did you do something regrettable in public you hadn’t planned on? The key first step in minimizing your brand damage is brutal honesty. If you had an affair, it’s time to come to terms with your broken marriage. If you’ve embarrassed yourself or your business, it’s time to take a hard look at the events in question. And if you behaved in a manner that is unbecoming of a police officer/priest/politician etc, then you need to step back and really self evaluate ... and fast.

2.) Be quick. Customers are waiting and your phone is not working, and in 2012, time is the enemy. Nobody wants to do anything in haste, but some day if you’re faced with a crisis, remember this: crisis + social media = house on fire. You don’t want to stand around discussing which fire hose to use to put out the fire. You don’t want to debate the pros and cons of calling 911 versus trying to put it out with a fire extinguisher.

And unfortunately, many chose to try and put out the fire themselves. Due to their lack of brutal honesty, they think it will "just go away". This will just "blow over". A couple of squirts with the fire extinguisher and it’s gone, right? Yeah. Tiger Woods, Mel Gibson, and RIM all failed these two steps, which put them on the road to ruin.

3.) Get in front of the story. You’re thinking this week’s column is aimed at politicians, or big companies or celebrities. Unfortunately not. We all from time to time have had a situation come up on social media that has had people ask: "Are you and Tom still together?" or "Are you OK? I hear you had a meltdown at work and threw a rock through your boss’s window?" Regardless of incident, event or even rumour, getting in front of the story can help to minimize damage and bring about fast resolution.

And anyone can get a message out in 2012. Anyone can call a press conference. Simply call the Brandon Sun and the radio station and local media is covered. You can do social media yourself. You may want to send out a press release.

Either way, it’s important to get the word out that you’re dealing with the situation, it’s under control and you are going to address your clients/constituents/listeners/viewers. This will help protect you somewhat from "the bad guy" label. In a crisis, especially one that affects customers directly, it’s normal to want to blame someone. If it’s your fault, that’s OK — best to own up in public and explain what happened and if it’s because of someone else, simply explain. We’re all adults.

4.) Be humble. Apologize. Explain. Repeat. So if you’ve had your Smartphone completely fail in a major way, letting investors and your customers down, step one is the brutal assessment of failure: our phones failed. Here’s what happened. (If you can get from steps one to three in hours, you’re brand could actually come out unscathed.)

And you’re now in front of the microphones and TV cameras "getting in front of the story". Upon your explanation of brutal honesty, you say you’re sorry, and do your best to explain the situation, honestly. Being humble and honest cannot be lost in this equation. A script saying: "Sorry, our phone broke, and we’re doing everything we can" is standard and doesn’t talk to your customers, voters, or investors intelligently.

RIM should have done a media blitz explaining the issues they were having on day one, apologizing to everyone, explaining how they were correcting the situation, and on any developments, positive or otherwise, continue to provide a constant stream of information until the crisis’ conclusion.

5.) Cap with something good (if you can). I always enjoy telling the story of the pizza store that used to have the 30 minute guarantee. We ordered it once in the early ’90s and they were 36 minutes. The guy at the door handed me the pizza, piping hot and humbly said, "No charge, sir — sorry we were late." This was not one hour, or 90 minutes here, but six minutes late and $40 in pizza.

Fact is, the moment you have something negative happen, we all hold the power to turn it into something positive. RIM could offer its customers a free month for their patience. Christopher Reeve immediately started the Christopher Reeve Paralysis foundation. Generous compensation for customers, donations for other organizations affected by the crisis, volunteering time, or starting fundraising efforts all help to close the door on the crisis and help everyone move forward.

And whether the crisis is self induced or not, or does not appear in any form again, most customers, voters and public will chalk up your crisis to "a bump in the road of life". It’s not what happens to us that determines our character, but rather how we react to it. It’s important to have a reaction strategy.

What is ironic locally is that city administration knows how to do follow these steps. Most recently, had the mayor followed up her comments by following this model, the firestorm that followed would have been avoided. And it’s not like she wasn’t familiar with handling a crisis — look back at the flood of last spring for a moment. Read my five steps to handling a crisis. Look familiar? It should. The city handled that crisis like textbook, and we are all better off for it.

Maybe it’s just a good idea to have a refresher every now and then.

 

Birthdays Today

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JOKE this Weekend

Two brooms were hanging in the closet and after a while they got to know each other so well, they decided to get married.

The bride broom looked very beautiful in her white dress. The groom broom was handsome and suave in his tuxedo. The wedding was lovely.

After the wedding, at the wedding dinner, the bride-broom leaned over and said to the groom-broom, "I think I am going to have a little whisk broom!"

"IMPOSSIBLE!" said the groom broom.

"We haven’t even swept together!"

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 17, 2012

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I always find it fascinating how big companies, big personalities, and big governments do damage control.

From Tiger Woods’ golf club through the SUV, to RIM’s disastrous year with Blackberry, to the recent turmoil at city hall involving Councillor Montague and Mayor Shari Dector Hurst, the reality is, nobody sees a crisis coming.

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I always find it fascinating how big companies, big personalities, and big governments do damage control.

From Tiger Woods’ golf club through the SUV, to RIM’s disastrous year with Blackberry, to the recent turmoil at city hall involving Councillor Montague and Mayor Shari Dector Hurst, the reality is, nobody sees a crisis coming.

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