(Tom Galvin) Everyday, we are reminded that no matter how noble, smart and well-managed a company is, sooner or later it’s going to find itself under the glare of intense scrutiny. I’ve seen it from all sides; from inside a “can do no wrong” company that had to explain how it stumbled and break a vow never to lay off thousands of employees to companies accused of monopoly behavior to accusations of prostitution to an organization finding out an employee’s child had the H1N1 virus – a day after that child was at headquarters for “Take Your Child to Work Day.”
And what always impresses me is how often a crisis brings out the very best in people, and therefore, organizations. I know it’s not the image we see on CNBC. But in most cases -with notable exceptions (re: Enron) - companies that face a crisis truly try to do the right thing. But that doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes.
Oftentimes, a crisis is simply an issue that wasn’t managed well and has turned into a crisis. In other instances, a company simply doesn’t react fast enough to limit the damage and it spirals. But all crises have some common themes and lessons:
- A crisis is like a book. It has chapters. Some are long and some are short. The basic chapters are 1) what happened? 2) who’s at fault? 3) what is going to happen because of it? 4) how will it be stopped from happening again.
More often than not, the company controls how long the chapters are. For example, when a company that get accused of something and doesn’t respond in hopes it will die down just gets stuck in that chapter. And the company wonders why the press won’t let go. The simple is they won’t until they can complete the chapters.
- Guessing is the worst thing. It’s important to put out information fast, but only if you are certain it’s accurate. Too often companies panic and put out information, only to have to correct later on. Now they look like liars. Only put out what you know when you know it.
- As bad as it may feel, a crisis is an ideal time to articulate and project the values of a company. If you messed up, say so (even if it leads to a big fight with the lawyers). If you miscalculated, own up to it. There is nothing more inspiring than an organization that holds itself accountable, explains what went wrong and demonstrates how it is going to become better because of it.
So the next time your organization falls short of its financial expectations, gets called up to testify and get scolded by Congress, or does something harmful, remember that in its toughest moments are its opportunities to prove what’s best about it.