Crisis Management: Through the Lens of Failure

[Editor’s note: Thank you to our colleague Tony Jaques for submitting this post on how crises tint stakeholder’s views of the organizations involved long after they’re gone.]

One of the underestimated impacts of a crisis is the fact that every subsequent event is magnified through the lens of the original failure.

When things go wrong, everything else suddenly gains a new importance, and the public and the media start using terms like “troubled” or “crisis prone” as a general description. This is a lesson being learned in spades by Malaysian Airlines after losing two aircraft in dramatic circumstances.

Within about one week we saw:

  • Widespread news reports of a Malaysian Airlines flight to Tokyo turning back to Kuala Lumpur because of a cabin pressure problem
  • Reports of an exodus of cabin crew resigning because of “family pressure”
  • A story about discount fares on the “troubled airline” and “plagued airline”
  • And a senior steward detained in France after an alleged sexual assault on a female passenger during a flight from Australian to Paris. She captured part of the incident on her mobile phone and the video was broadcast on national television.

When I was interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald after the loss of MH17 over Eastern Ukraine I said that what Malaysian Airlines needed was not a clever rebranding programme or some new reputation-building initiative. I said that what was needed was a prolonged period of flawless operations and every single employees recognising and acknowledging that everything they do will be subject to intense scrutiny.

Almost 400 years ago English Bishop Joseph Hall said: “A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was.” In all the intervening centuries, there’s maybe no-one who has expressed it better.

Tony Jaques manages Australian-based issue and crisis management consultancy Issue}Outcomes, and is the author of the upcoming book, Issues and Crisis Management: Exploring Issues, Crises, Risk and Reputation, available for preorder on Amazon now.

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