Bernstein Crisis Management. Crisis response, prevention, planning, and training.

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2002 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 2,900+


A lot of us think, when we see a proverbial ship hit an iceberg, "thank God that isn't us." Funny, the folks on the other ship thought the same thing last week.


Five Top Reasons Why Your Employees May Not Be Able to Help Fix What's Wrong With Your Organization
by Phil Cogan, Executive V.P., Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.

As I've conducted more and more vulnerability and risk audits for clients I've been amazed at the willingness of interviewees to share their candid insights into what's wrong, could go wrong or what could be done better.

But even more surprising to me has been their ready ability to offer workable solutions to address those problems.

That's right. The workers we've interviewed --- at all levels of the food chain --- have known what's wrong, AND they've had a pretty good idea about how to fix it. So why haven't they?

Well, here are the top reasons why your employees may not help fix what's wrong your organization, along with some possible solutions.

1. "You never ask for help."

Your organization doesn't acknowledge that there's always room for improvement and that employees are often the key to identifying how to improve. Someone pointing out a problem in such a "perfect" place may be labeled as "negative", a whiner, or complainer.

James Lee Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Clinton, stunned workers at the then-beleaguered agency, when he asked for their help in fixing the agency which some wanted to dismantle.

Within days of assuming his post Witt sent a memo to every FEMA employee asking for their help in turning the agency around. He empowered every single employee to make any improvements they felt necessary, and he promised that even if their idea didn't work, no one would be punished, (as long as the solution was neither illegal nor unethical).

The turnaround at FEMA was so great that a year later President Clinton, in his State of the Union address, called FEMA one of the most effective agencies in the federal government.

Solution: Make sure your organization actively encourages suggestions about how to do things better.

2. "The chain of command stifles feedback."

Hey, maybe the boss will take your observation personally, even though it's not intended as such. If there's no way to submit suggestions up the chain, perhaps even anonymously, good ideas may go nowhere.

Solution: Consider creating several methods for anonymous submission of employee ideas and comments. An idea submission page on your Intranet site, or an 800-phone number are easy to establish, and are but two methods for collecting feedback.

3. "No good deed goes unpunished."

Yep, your organization may have "rewarded" the last person who stuck his or her neck out by ignoring them, or worse yet, finding fault with the mere submission of the comment, no matter how good it was. That's enough to keep others from getting burned.

Solution: Make certain that employees are recognized, and perhaps even rewarded, for submitting suggestions and feedback. Don't base recognition solely on the applicability of the observation and/or solution. The idea here is not just to encourage suggestions that will always work or be adopted. Rather, you want employees to know you want to hear their ideas, whether they ultimately are adopted or not.

4. "Only executives and managers have good ideas."

Or so your mailroom clerk may think. Some executives actually think their IQs increase each time they receive a promotion. If staff believe they're not considered capable of having blockbuster ideas they'll stay silent.There's no telling how much their silence will ultimately cost you. FEMA Director Witt, in calling for help from employees, told them his appointment as director made him no smarter than he was before he was appointed. That's a rare admission from a senior exec.

Solution: Recognized employees should represent a wide spectrum of the work force. If you're only getting ideas from the top you've got work to do with the middle and lower level workers. Nothing damages morale more than large cash awards, or even non-monetary awards, being given to already well- compensated employees.

5. "They work here. They must have some axe to grind."

Let's face it. If your husband or wife has an idea you may ignore it until your best friend suggests the same thing. Or you see the idea on TV. We're all prone to ignore suggestions and ideas from those closest to us.

When it comes to employees we sometimes reject their suggestions because of perceived self-interest on their part. Or maybe our pride gets in the way. Whatever the reason, sometimes the best ideas are those that could and should have originated with our own personnel, but we minimize their value.

Sad but true, but sometimes it takes the proverbial consultant (you know, the person with a briefcase from out of town) to tell you what your own people have been trying (or should have been trying) to tell you all along.

Solution: Don't let ego obstruct your hearing.

So if you want to fix, or just improve, your organization, be sure to look within for the answers. And if you don't think your employees will or can be honest because they fear retribution, consider giving them some "cover" by bringing in independent, third parties to ask those questions and gather the possible solutions. You'll be mining for gold in your very own gold mine.


Branding Crisis Manager

You can arrange to distribute "Crisis Manager" to your own email list with a "Brought to You By" credit in the masthead. There is no charge and only some reasonable restrictions to preserve the integrity of the publication. Several organizations are already doing this and finding that it is appreciated by their contacts. Write to for more info.

Crisis Manager Presentations & Workshops

Want to REALLY get some of this information into the hearts and minds of your organization? Your ineffable ezine editor and crisis communications consultant and his talented associate, Phil Cogan, are available to make presentations and lead workshops. Their presentations can often be certified for the continuing education credits required by a number of professions. A list of our recent and pending speaking engagements can be found by clicking here or on the "Presentations" button to the left. For more info: or call (626) 825-3838.


The Pain Must Feel So Good
by Phil Cogan, Executive V.P., Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.

"Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
      --George Santayana

In an earlier issue of "Crisis Manager" my colleague Jonathan Bernstein asked the question, "How much pain does it take" in order to be motivated to take action? He was speaking, of course, about organizations that have recently been the subject of headlines, talk shows, editorials, community meetings and public outrage. Why, he wondered, did these organizations continue to take actions similar to those that subjected them to past criticism? Did they really expect a different result?

Organizations in the middle of their very public nightmare might be excused (but for only a moment) if they didn't immediately adopt an enlightened strategy to address the problem(s) and related cause(s).

Even after factoring in a grace period for inaction, though, Bernstein has noted repeatedly how long it often takes for those under fire to fully appreciate the damage they're incurring by either refusing to act, or even more incredibly, continuing on the same self-destructive path.


But apparently observing the pain of others isn't enough to alert us to the need to ask the question, "Could this happen to me?" For surely this is not a situation where ignorance is bliss.

Case in point. The Catholic Church has for months (and in some locales, years) been the subject of news stories, investigations and criticism from its parishioners in connection with allegations, and admissions, of sexual indiscretions by priests.

Chain Reaction

However, it apparently has not occurred to many medical practitioners, healthcare providers, counselors, or day and residential treatment programs that the increased visibility of the church cases may unlock or unleash memories of similar abuse by those served by them in the past, and that in turn may lead to lawsuits or negative news items, or both

Add to that the increasing trends toward mergers and acquisitions. We know from experience that some companies have inherited sexual abuse problems that were never disclosed during any due diligence proceedings while the purchase was under consideration.

Sometimes workers with knowledge of the events, or allegations, are still working for the organization. In other cases everyone is gone But the victims, real or alleged, often are not. And news of other victims coming forward either awakens old, unpleasant memories, or encourages those with valid or invalid claims to try to "cash in". Either way, an organization unaware of its past is in for a rude awakening.

Other Industries Not Immune Either

This has been an amazing year. Besides the Enron/Arther Andersen debacle we saw a currency trader at Allfirst Bank in Baltimore indicted for bank fraud, allegedly losing over $700 million.

We saw America Online mistakenly inform 100 people via email that they had won $10,000 in a contest co-sponsored by Coca-Cola. And then AOL tried to appease them with $200 gift certificates and three free months of AOL.

We saw Ford Motor Company and Bridgestone throw some pretty mean punches at each other.

And we heard vegetarians criticizing McDonalds for cooking its fries in 100% vegetable oil ... AND natural flavoring that, the company later admitted, was beef fat. Earlier this month the company issued an apology.

Add ImClone Systems, Global Crossings Ltd., Tyco Industries, Adelphia -- and in the approximately two weeks since I first drafted this article, WorldCom and Xerox.

And so the year went, one misstep after another.

Public Growing Less Forgiving

That corporations and other large organizations will make mistakes is a given. No one is perfect.

But the public, once possessed of a seemingly infinite supply of forgiveness for corporate errors, seems to be tiring of the almost daily revelations of indiscretions.

ITT Sr. VP Tom Martin, writing recently about the implications of the Enron scandal, said:

"We are all on trial here. Anyone and everyone involved in the corporate world -- and that includes all of us who work in PR and reputation management fields --- should be looking carefully at how this period is redefining the world. What's on trial is the very validity of private enterprise and the credibility of the professions it supports. Who can you trust?"

Several surveys have recently quantified the public's growing distrust of business.

The surveys suggest that if business doesn't clean up its act the public will ask others to do it for them. This year's Trust Survey by Golin/Harris International found, for example, that "recent economic events have created a crisis of confidence and trust in the way we do business in America" and accordingly people are "going to hold business to a high standard in their behavior and communications."

And another survey for the Towers Group this year found that 88 percent of investors believe Enron's executives, board, auditors or attorneys "intentionally" misled the public.

Heads in the Sand?

Many of the scandals have been attributed to lax oversight. Some have admitted that corporate "rainmakers" were bringing in so much business, it was more profitable to look the other way than question rainmakers' methods. Too much criticism might encourage them to take their clients elsewhere.

So here's the question:

if business fails to look for corporate skeletons in the closet;

if it chooses not to scrutinize the minute details of how it operates each day;

if it disregards the lessons learned from the mistakes made by others;

does it mean that the pain just feels better than the cure?


In the past year, there has been no more common question asked of Phil Cogan and I, from ezine readers or our audiences at speaking engagements, than "what do you think about (fill in the name of the latest corporate disaster here)?" Enron, Anderson, WorldCom, Xerox and even Martha Stewart's initial poor response to allegations continue to teach lessons to those who would like to learn, albeit typically "DON'T DO IT THAT WAY" lessons.

If the leadership of your organization wishes to avoid being included in that infamous list of those who clearly do not know how to either prevent or respond to crises, they may wish to read the following past "Crisis Manager" articles now archived at our website in addition to those in this issue:


Global Crisis Control, Inc., a firm specializing in security matters and a member of Bernstein Crisis Management's P.E.R.T.SM team, is offering "Crisis Manager" readers a special $600 rate for its upcoming class on managing bomb threats being held in Albany, NY July 29-31. You must register by July 5 to get this rate versus the standard $700 fee. The course, taught by an Explosives Ordinance Disposal professional, will give you the experience and tools to deal with a bomb threat that might strike your workplace. Contact Walter Dubuque at 1.800.515.9785 or go to:


Bernstein Crisis Management has formal or informal co-promotional and mutually beneficial business associations with PIER Systems, Inc., PR Newswire's ProfNet service and CustomScoop. No, we can't go into details because that's confidential, proprietary, etc. But our relationship is NOT "arm's distance" and you should know that, since we regularly write about how we're using these services for crisis and issues management. That said, you should also know that Bernstein Crisis Management sought the relationships because its staff is convinced that these services are the best of their kind for Bernstein Crisis Management's needs and those of their clients. If you have any questions about these relationships, please contact Jonathan Bernstein, (626) 825-3838.


Jonathan Bernstein is president & CEO of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., a national public relations agency specializing in crisis prevention, response & issues management. It is also the only national PR agency able to create crisis- and issues-specific websites for its clients in as little as five minutes by employing proprietary PIER System technology. Information on the firm's services can be found by Clicking Here or by calling (626) 825-3838. Information on its PIER capabilities can be found at


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These sites have proven valuable to my business and may do the same for yours.

"Media Insider" is a free service for the public relations community hosted by PR Newswire and ProfNet, its online resource linking reporters with expert sources. Updated daily with contributions from members, Insider reports on the people and new technologies behind the production of news. Go to

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"Powerlines" is a free bi-monthly newsletter about reputation management and communication matters written by Deon Binneman, a reputation management consultant, speaker and trainer who employs his 25 years of experience to advise clients worldwide from his base in Johannesburg, South Africa. For a free evaluation copy write to


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