What is it about the American news media and their love for criminals, unethical people, bad news, and murderers? In February, PBS launched a boat-load of special programs
on mass murder including a profile, complete with childhood photos and video, of the origins of the murderer of the 26 killed in Newtown. They had lots of media company that week promoting the same kinds of coverage. One has to ask, “Why?” – Aside from ratings, of course.
If I could speak to the chief executive of your company or organization about the importance of communications in your preparation for crisis or emergency, we would discuss just a few career preserving subjects, and the conversation would take only a few minutes.
There’s a wonderful old Swedish wife’s tale saying that fish and relatives begin to smell after being around for five days. We can now say that the same is true of the news media in Newtown, now well beyond five days.
The most volatile component of all crisis response is victim management. Failure to promptly, humanely, and empathetically see that victims’ needs are met will eclipse an organization’s response, and even a flawless response will be remembered for its angry survivors, relatives, public officials, sometimes competitors, but almost always the critics.
This is one of my favorite tools for discussing serious problems with management. It is simply a side-by-side comparison of the assumptions we make about a given situation, and the realities of that situation in the words of victims, employees, those indirectly affected, and critics.
Businesses don’t learn because the typical response to a crisis is focused more on forgetting than learning. The first inclination is to punish the innocent, next, to cover up the misdeeds of the powerful; and then purge the organization of anyone remotely associated with the problems, including the chief executive, sometimes the CFO and even the general counsel.
Wherever there is conflict, confrontation and crisis, there is contention. In today’s Twitter, blogger and bloviator dominated world, working to resolve important issues, questions and decisions often begins very contentiously and ends only after one side is beaten and leaves the field; there is a mutual withdrawal, or mostly commonly, one side wins and the other side stays angry.
If you are a CEO today the news can be pretty dismal for many. The ranks of CEOs seem to be churning faster than ever. The average tenure of new U.S. and European CEOs is shrinking, now down to an average of 41 months.
I am 1,000,000 mile flyer on Delta Airlines and soon will be one on United once they complete their mergers. But last night, December 7, 2011, I saw something happen in an airport that is absolutely new and amazing.