Thursday, July 30, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Racial Profiling or Poor Communication?


If you just read the headlines, or even the mainstream media coverage about the "white" police officer and his arrest of a "black" Harvard professor after a report of a break-in at the professor's home, you could easily pick a "side," based on your life experiences.

I've been on all 3 sides of this issue. I was a county police officer years ago, a journalist for 35 years and a crisis communication consultant for nearly 20 years. I'm beginning to doubt racial profiling was the issue, unless it was "racial profiling in reverse".

HOWEVER, being tired, perhaps ill, and angry fed one side of the confrontation. Trying to do a thorough job, and perhaps not explaining clearly the steps the officer was taking and why, combined with an all too often exagerated sense of "power" that some police officers have, aggravated the other side of the issue.

If I were in a position to help, I would try very hard to get the officer and his Chief to meet with the Professor and one of his trusted advisors, with the goal of letting the officer properly explain why it was necessary to have the "homeowner" step outside, and then search the home...for the protection of the resident of the house.

I've been in that position. Hopefully I explained what I was doing and why, better than this officer was able to do.

There was the possiblity that someone was hiding in the house, threatening the resident or perhaps even holding a family member hostage. You would not want the officer to respond to a break-in call, then walk away immediately, if someone had just broken in and was somewhere in the house waiting to do you harm.

Both sides need to calm down, quit fueling the controversy with indignant demands for apologies, and quietly talk about what happened, then kiss and make up!

Are Banks Getting Better at Crisis Management?

If you're looking for the 2-part Q&A series on bank crisis management THIS IS PART 2. Part one precedes this one.

An MBA student from Ireland has posed a series of questions to the Institute for Crisis Management about the current banking crisis, as part of the research he's doing on his Master's thesis. This is the second of two articles inspired by his questions:

Ahmed Hamed asked:

Confidence in the banking system is at an all time low, do you believe that it is the banks job to restore confidence to investors and stakeholders or would you be more inclined to believe that concentrating on performance and profit will ultimately lead to investor and stakeholder confidence?

We are often asked by a prospective client to help them get through a crisis. The first question we asked them is “what are you doing to fix the problem?” Frequently a CEO will tell us he doesn’t know what to do, but if we’ll do our PR magic, that will buy them some time. We always tell them it doesn’t work that way. They FIRST have to begin fixing what is wrong, then we can use communication tools to let their customers know and begin the process of rebuilding the reputation and consumer confidence.

Currently, what do you think banks should do to restore confidence among stakeholders?

They must first return to sound business practices and quit trying to make unrealistic profits at the expense of their customers. They must also STOP rewarding mismanagement and greed. Only then can they begin to regain the trust and confidence of their customers and potential customers.

What changes in the role of crisis management do you expect to see over the next 5 years? How will these changes impact on the structure or organisation of banks?

I don’t have lot of confidence that much will change. All organizations, including banks, should have three crisis plans. 1.) A crisis operations plan – what happens when the fire alarm or the hold-up alarm goes off? Who does what? In what order? What do you do to protect employees and customers from harm? 2.)A crisis communication plan – who says what, when and how when a crisis is looming or has already struck? 3.) A continuity or business recovery plan – how do you restore vital services/functions and get back to normal operations as soon as possible.
And, in the best of all worlds, these three plans should be integrated into one comprehensive crisis management plan.

Following the current financial crisis what do you think will be the greatest obstacles or constraints that will face the banking sector in the future?

The greatest obstacle will be pressure to reach unrealistic profits, not only in the banking sector but in most other economic sectors throughout the world.

Monday, July 20, 2009

An Investigation in Bank Crisis Management

An MBA student from Ireland has posed a series of questions to the Institute for Crisis Management about the current banking crisis, as part of the research he's doing on his Master's thesis. This is the first of two or three parts of an article inspired by his questions:

Ahmed Hamed asked:

In your opinion, do you think that banks have adopted a different approach to crisis management since the recent banking collapses? If so, in what ways?

I doubt many banks have made significant changes in their approach to crisis management. Based on nearly 20-years of research in business crisis management, the Institute for Crisis Management maintains that two-thirds of all crises are preventable. ICM calls them “smoldering crises.” They start out small, often internal, but not always, and are the kinds of issues that someone within the organization should spot and recognize as potential future disasters.

For example: loaning money to people who won’t be able to pay it back, just to make a quick up-front profit, knowing that someone later will have to suffer because of that decision. If financial institutions had “done what is right” and followed good business practices in the first place, the current financial crash would likely not have happened.

By the way, the other third of all business crises are what ICM calls “sudden crises” and that includes fires, explosions, natural disasters and workplace violence.

In your opinion, do you believe that it’s better to keep the media at arm’s length when a crisis occurs or do you believe it is important that the public is made aware of any issues that the bank may face?

It is important first, to identify what the crisis IS, then secondly, identify the key audiences or stakeholders, and ONLY then, begin formulating a communication strategy. In most cases there are several audiences that need to hear from the organization in crisis, including employees, business partners, investors and regulators.

In each case there is usually a better way to communicate with each of those audiences than through the public or mass media. For example, employee meetings, employee news letters, employee hotlines and an employee intranet. Business partners need to hear directly and in-person from company leaders. So do investors and regulators.

I am not suggesting that a company in crisis ignore the media, but the media is rarely ever the best way to reach the audiences that are most important.

How co-operative or open to the media do you think banks are in general when crises occurs? Can you give specific examples?

Most banks don’t know how to “use” the media, and the customers that most executives need to reach don’t depend on the mass media for their information to begin with.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Are You Still Trying to Ignore the Threat of a Pandemic?

Swine Flu pandemic planning is now more critical than ever.

Today the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced they have stopped counting the number of cases, although both agencies will continue to monitor the outbreak of H1N1 pandemic flu.

When they stopped reporting numbers this (Friday 7/17) morning WHO had counted more than 95,000 cases and 429 deaths world-wide and 40,600 confirmed cases with 263 deaths in the U.S. alone.

But, Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said those numbers are meaningless. Great Britain estimated 55,000 new cases last week alone and Dr. Schuchat says there are likely millions of sick people in every country in the world. Most people infected with H1N1 are never tested, she said.

Five companies, mostly overseas, are beginning to make flu vaccines for the U.S. market, but won't begin to test those vaccines on humans until sometime in August.

If you have a business, run a health care facility, a government agency, police department, fire department, public or private school system, university or non-profit agency you are running out of time.

You must complete a plan to help your organization through a two to three month period this fall when as many as 20-to-40-percent of your workforce will be out sick or afraid to come to work or stuck taking care of sick family members or friends.

You can read more about the "issues" you need to be planning for at:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

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How NOT to Layoff Employees

Lay-offs, down-sizing, plant relocation, right-sizing, job cuts -- whatever you call it and for whatever reason you do it, putting people out of work is a nasty, painful experience.

It doesn't have to be that bad.

However, the Chicago Public School system made it that bad and it shouldn't have been.

In mid June a story leaked to the Chicago media that there would be lay-offs in the Central Office. That was how employees learned their jobs were in jeopardy. After the media reports, department managers sent out e-mails to their subordinates saying they didn't know how "budget concerns" would impact their department and employees were advised in that e-mail they would be "told" as soon as there was more information.

A few weeks later, the "further information" was delivered in one-on-one meetings in which department heads read a script basically saying, "so long, don't let the door hit you in the rear on your way out."

By July 2, 557 employees of the Chicago school system had been shown the door, for a savings of about $100-million. More lay-offs are rumored. Morale is in the toilet and productivity by remaining employees has taken a nose dive.

Carelessness is how employees hear about job cuts from the media. Poor planning, or a lack of planning creates a long-term problem whether it is a lay-off of a handful of employees or of hundreds.

There are a number of steps we recommend in preparing for a lay-off.

And you have to consider NOT ONLY those who are leaving, but you have to plan for those who will be keeping their jobs. They need counseling and reassurance, or at least compassion and honesty as they cope with the loss of co-worker friends and the bitterness that often comes from being told they are going to have to pick up the slack and "do more with less."


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Are You Communicating Effectively In This Economic Crisis?

Not all crises involve explosions, violence, high winds, flooding, fraud or mismanagement.

The whole world is working (or not) its way through the economic recession and for many organizations -- for-profit and not-for-profit -- it has become a very real crisis.

If your organization has never considered "communication" important, now is the time to reconsider.

If you are not communicating regularly and clearly with your internal audiences, as well as your external audiences, you are increasing the odds your business or organization will not come out well on the other side of this economic train-wreck.

Let's start with employees and partners:

Everyone talks to someone else within an organization. They are either talking about the facts or the rumors. If its your organization, which do you want them talking about and repeating outside the office or plant or store? There's only one place they are going to get the real facts and that's from the leadership/management.

If you are responsible and you are not out talking to your people, explaining the true situation and what you are doing about it, and reassuring those people you will get through this together, then you are, by default, sending a message that will do far more harm than good.

Employees and their families are likely living day-to-day, worrying about their jobs and what they will do if your business has to cut back more or even fails. Productivity needs to be at its peak right now, but worried employees are not going to be performing at their best.

Now, about customers, investors, and vendors:

Investors have been having second thoughts about putting any more money into your operation or anyone else's, for that matter. You need to be reaching out to them with information about what you're doing to keep your business headed in the right direction and reassuring them that you're still a good investment.

Customers have been considering their options for months -- will you be there when they need your product or service? Will you maintain quality and dependability and a reasonable price? You MUST be communicating effectively, often and reassuringly.

Vendors and suppliers need to hear from you, too.

Do not mislead anyone. A bleak, but honest report, is better than no report to these key audiences and a misleading report is even worse.

When you explain your difficulties to key audiences and ask them to help you work through them, you will likely be surprised to find support from places you never expected. When you keep those same key audiences in the dark, they'll leave you in the dark, when you need them most.