© 2009 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 18,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
Character is not made in a crisis, it is only exhibited.
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Crisis Prevention Red Flags
By Jonathan Bernstein
In my opinion and experience, 95% of crises are preventable. That's right, when I've "reverse-engineered" crises that have occurred to my clients over the past 25+ years, crises about which I have sufficient information to reach truly educated conclusions, pre-crisis red flags were usually present - and ignored.
Over time, I've seen significant commonality in those red flags, so let me give you a quick list that you might be able to apply to other organizations with the goal of preventing crises.
- Information choke points. Too much critical information and/or decisions go through a single person or very small group of people. When that flow gets heavy, the information clogs that choke point the same way the flow of too much material, too fast, can clog a drain - at which the backup starts increasing exponentially. Some of that information may be critical to preventing a crisis - and it's just sitting there, useless, at the choke point.
- Irreplaceable people. It's good to have people so good that you consider them to be irreplaceable, right? Well, not necessarily. If a certain person - and it could be a very competent admin assistant as easily as it could be your CEO - is the only person who knows how to or is authorized to perform a certain task, what do you do when they aren't available? When they are out of town and unreachable? When they have stepped in front the proverbial truck? No one should be THAT irreplaceable; any of their functions which may be critical to crisis prevention or response need to be learned by one or more backups.
- Human arrogance. I conducted a recent survey at LinkedIn regarding the primary cause of crises. The top answer was "human arrogance." Followed closely by "playing ostrich/denial." The two are closely related and often take the form of "it can't happen here" syndrome. Which is not unlike realizing you're about to go to hell and saying to yourself, over and over again, "It's not hot and I'm not here."
- Lack of policies critical to crisis prevention. Certain policies are more critical to crisis prevention that others, such as those regarding:
- Information security.
- Who speaks for the organization.
- Email protocols on-site and off-site.
- Lack of training to go along with policies. Any policy without initial and refresher training is meaningless. In the morass of policies employees at most organizations have to read from point of hire onwards, the ones they remember most are (a) the ones most important them personally, such as pay-related policies and (b) those that they are reminded about, over and over.
- Omniscient decision-makers. Some organizations have key decision-makers who, in practice, act as if they are omniscient. They are highly capable in certain fields, and surround themselves with staff and/or consultants who are equally capable in their respective fields - but then they don't listen to the latter. Only to their own "inner God." With predictable results.
For organizations that want to prevent crises, there's a process I've created called a vulnerability audit. That process ferrets out these hidden flags, after which an organization can decide how to reduce or eliminate its specific vulnerabilities.
Sadly, some of the omniscient decision-makers, after paying for such work to be performed, decide they don't need to do anything with the results. They forget that there is no such thing as inaction and that they are - de facto - deciding to have future crises which could have been prevented.
This article first appeared in Media Bullseye, which also prints a lot of other cool stuff, so if you haven't been there, go there!
The Rhode Island Nightclub Fire
Excerpted with permission from "Crisis Leadership Now"
By Dr. Larry Barton
When governor Don Carcieri of Rhode Island took to the microphones on February 21, 2003, the situation that he was about to discuss was one with which he had absolutely no experience. He wasn't announcing his reelection, and he wasn't touting a new piece of legislation that he was hoping the state legislature would approve.
Rather, Carcieri found himself in the unfortunate position of discussing a tragic incident that had occurred the night before; with about 200 people crowded inside a popular local nightclub called The Station, something had gone horribly wrong. Testimony would later suggest that an individual associated with the band Great White had lit pyrotechnics at the beginning of the rock group's show at The Station. The nightclub had recently passed a safety inspection but was exempted from the general requirement to have automatic sprinklers due to the old age of the building.
When I teach executive crisis management training programs, I typically play three brief videos related to this fire. The first is actual footage taken by a patron's cell phone of the fireworks that ignited the ceiling tiles of the nightclub and created a fireball that killed 100 club patrons. The second video features statements from band representatives indicating that they had nothing to do with the use of pyrotechnics during their show. The third, and by far the most illuminating, includes segments of the news conference held the next day by Governor Carcieri.
I'm sure the governor was in shock the day of the press conference, and I'll bet his constituents were, too. Governors are comfortable when it comes to budgets and regulatory affairs, but rarely do they have to visit a morgue or meet with dozens of parents who cannot identify their sons and daughters because they have been burnt beyond recognition. The governor is a human being, and he was in shock, so let's cut him some slack, right?
This is the governor - the CEO of the state. When crisis hits, the public expects its leaders to become commanders, to take charge of the facts, to issue a call to action - to offer a definitive roadmap to recovery.
Governor Carcieri blew it. In his press conference, he often referred to the individuals who had been killed as "bodies," rather than "victims." Rather than starting the news conference by assuring the public that his prayers and thoughts were with the victims and their families, he rambled for more than eight minutes about how he wanted to hear from dentists because having access to the dental records of victims might accelerate the identification process. Rather than saying, "This fire is beyond anything I've ever seen, and you have my promise that I will devote the full resources of the state to help us discover the cause of this tragedy and ensure that another similar event never occurs," Carcieri looked dazed. His own staff was caught on live national television in the background looking puzzled and seemingly asking themselves: "Where is this guy going with this?"
When crisis strikes, a smart organization expects a barrage of interest and inquiries from reporters, regulators, family members, and others. It selected the appropriate spokesperson, hopefully one who is seasoned at delivering difficult messages. It rehearses key phrases with that spokesperson until he or she has high comfortability with the content of the message he or she will be delivering. That spokesperson will need to participate in several mock interviews so they can answer complex questions succinctly. And the spokesperson should never - ever - refer to victims as bodies. In crisis communications, every word counts, every nuance matters. Even the location where you hold your press conference can have a considerable impact on how your message is received.
Every time I show the video of the governor's press conference, my audiences almost always become angry that the one person who had the opportunity to publicly express emotions of loss and rally his constituents instead drifted into a world of dental records and babble. I'm sure his intentions were good. But during his defining moment as governor, Carcieri was a rank amateur at the microphone.
Crisis Leadership Now is published by McGraw-Hill. It is available at bookstores both online and offline.
Bernstein Blogging Update
You don't have to wait for another issue of Crisis Manager to continue to receive crisis management insights. Visit us at at the Bernstein Crisis Management blog. You can also express your opinions there, to include providing a handy, SEO-improving "backlink" to your own website. Some recent topics posted there:
- Crisis Management Guidance
- Crisis Simulation
- Solving Online Crises
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
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Keeping the Wolves at Bay 3.0 Reviewed
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Founder & CEO of PIER System and host of Crisisblogger.com
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Publisher, About Public Relations
In addition to individual and business usage, the manual is now being required as a textbook at Seton Hall University, Grand Canyon University, and Singapore Management University, amongst others. It is available in both PDF and hard copy formats at www.thecrisismanager.com, with reseller arrangements available for collegiate bookstores.
Jonathan Bernstein also offers on-site media training worldwide, using this manual as the basis for training. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disaster Prep 101
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ABOUT THE EDITOR & PUBLISHER
Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com, a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. The agency engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning & training. He has been in the public relations field since 1982, following five-year stints in both military intelligence and investigative reporting. Write to email@example.com.
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