Tag Archives: reputation

The Thorny Issues in a Product Recall

In 1982, people in Chicago began dropping dead from cyanide poisoning, which was linked to Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol in select drug stores. Johnson & Johnson immediately pulled all Tylenol from the shelves of all stores, not just those in Chicago. It was ultimately determined that the product had been tampered with by someone outside of Johnson & Johnson. But the company’s aggressive actions produced a legend: The Tylenol scare was chalked up as the case to review for an effective brand-preserving (even brand-enhancing) product recall strategy.

In 2011, though, the FDA took the extraordinary step of taking over three Johnson & Johnson plants that produced Tylenol because of significant problems with contamination. This time, Johnson & Johnson could not blame a crazed killer, only itself. A company that should have learned from its own celebrated case study had not retained that knowledge 30 years later.

The problems associated with recalls often aren’t the recall itself. In a recall, stores pull the products, and the media helps get the message to those who have already purchased the product to return them for refunds, replacement, repair or destruction.

One problem crops up when companies are too slow to move. It was revealed in the press in June 2014, that GM allegedly knew of its ignition switch problems seven years before it recalled the product. The recall that began in February 2014 itself became tortuous as new models were added almost daily to the list of cars that were in danger of electrical shutdown while in motion. The press, the regulators and, of course, the lawyers pounced on GM for its alleged withholding of information for so long and for the seemingly endless additional recall of cars affected by the problem. In 2015, regulators have called meetings with GM and other auto manufacturers mired in what has become an epidemic of recalls to discuss why repairs are dragging on so long.

Denial, lack of information, hunkering down (bunker mentality), secrecy, silo mentality and fears for the impact on the bottom line all contribute to disastrous recalls. With all recalls, there is the cost of the recall, the cost of complete or partial loss or loss of use of certain products, repair costs in some cases (GM), regulatory scrutiny and fines, class action and other lawsuits and the loss of potential income during any shutdown. These can all be big-ticket items, and some companies will not survive these expenses and loss of revenue.

Probably the biggest cost of any recall is the cost to reputation, which can mean loss of existing and future customers. In recent years, lettuce growers and a peanut warehouse did not survive recalls over contaminated products. In the case of primary agricultural producers like growers and peanut warehouses, the processors simply change suppliers, leaving the primary producers without any customers. In the retail market, the competition for shelf space is high. Brands that are recalled that are new or that do not have high customer value are simply barred from shelf space, effectively destroying the ability to market their products.

However, there are others that have strong brand following and even cult-like status in local markets. Blue Bell Creameries (famous for its ice cream) is one such company that has secured an almost cult-like following in the Southern and Midwestern states. Blue Bell, founded in 1907, maintains its headquarters in the small town of Brenham, TX (pop. 16,000).

Problems began when hospitals in Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas reported patients suffering from an outbreak of listeria-related diseases, some as early as 2010. Some reports included the deaths of patients. On May 7, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reported, “It wasn’t until April 2015 that the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control during routine product sampling at a South Carolina distribution center, on Feb. 12, 2015, discovered that a new listeria outbreak had a common source, Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Country Cookie Sandwich and the Great Divide Bar manufactured in Brenham Texas.”

Listeria is a bacteria that can cause fever and bowel-related discomfort and even more significant symptoms, especially in the young and elderly. Listeria can kill. Listeria is found naturally in both soil and water. Listeria can grow in raw and processed foods, including dairy, meat, poultry, fish and some vegetables. It can remain on processing equipment and on restaurant kitchen equipment, and when food comes in contact with contaminated equipment the bacteria finds a ready-made food source in that food and multiples. The FDA has issued guidance reports to food processors, preparers and restaurants on how to prevent listeria contamination. This includes proper preparation techniques, cleaning techniques, hygiene, testing and manufacturing and processing methodologies.

Once Blue Bell understood that its cookie sandwiches and ice cream bars were implicated, the company immediately recalled the products. But soon it became evident to Blue Bell and others that this outbreak might not be limited to the ice cream bars or cookie sandwiches, and Blue Bell recalled all of its product and, to its credit, shut down all manufacturing operations.

The FDA conducted inspections of Blue Bell plants, and in late April and early May produced reports on three plants, noting issues of cleanliness and process that were conducive to listeria growth. The FDA has also reported that Blue Bell allegedly had found listeria in its plants as far back as 2010 but never reported this to the FDA.

As of this writing, Blue Bell plants are still shut down. The FDA investigation has come to a close, but many questions remain. The company has cut 1,450 jobs, or more than a third of its work force, and has said it will reenter the market only gradually, after it has proved it can product the ice cream safely.

The question is whether these things Blue Bell has done: the quick recall, first of the problem products and then all products, and the closure of plants to mitigate contamination issues are enough to save Blue Bell from further damage in the eyes of consumers and the stores that sell the product. There are many tough questions to be answered going forward.

In the intervening months, will competitors replace Blue Bell with their own products that consumers feel will compare favorably? If so, when Blue Bell products are returned to stores will consumers return, or has the stigma of listeria and the acceptance of the taste of comparable products weakened the brand? Will stores give Blue Bell adequate shelf space? And, does Blue Bell have enough of a cult following and viral fan base that once product is back in stores customers will return as if nothing had happened? These are the scary questions that affect all food and drug companies when recalls are from contamination in their own plants or those in their supply chain.

The American consumer seems to have become numb to the endless succession of automobile recalls from just about all manufacturers. We dutifully return our vehicles to the dealer to fix a broken or faulty this or that. Even though many recalls involve parts or processes that could cause car accidents, injuries and deaths, it is as if we have come to accept faulty auto products as the norm.

This is not the case with food-borne illnesses. The fact that a faulty car can kill as easily as a contaminated food product seems not to be an issue as people return again and again to buy new cars from the same car manufacturer that issued five recalls on their last purchased model. However, consumers will shun the food brand that made some people ill. This bifurcated approach to risk makes no sense even in the context of protecting children from harm. The faulty car that mom drives the kids around in every day may have the same probability of injuring or killing her child as the recalled food brand. She doesn’t abandon her car, but she bans the recalled food brand from her table.

In 1990, Perrier discovered benzene in its sparkling water product. It quickly recalled all its product but then hunkered down into a bunker mentality. The lack of communication by Perrier about the problem and what it was doing exacerbated the fears of consumers, and the press speculation and outcry ran high. Perrier had always touted the purity of its water, so toxic benzene shattered this claim. Hunkering down reduced consumer confidence, and many left Perrier for suitable alternative products. Perrier has never regained the market share it had previously.

Blue Bell has taken the time to do things right, to find the causes of the problem and take steps necessary to prevent contamination in the future. But time also means that existing or even new competitors with comparative products will try to fill the shelf space vacated by Blue Bell’s absence. You can be sure that other-region favorites with cult followings that could never before gain a foothold in Blue Bell’s territory have been pressuring retailers to try them out as a replacement for Blue Bell.

Is the Perrier loss of market share inevitable for Blue Bell even if Blue Bell communicates adequately and with transparency? Time will tell. For now, Blue Bell not only has to fix the problems of plant cleanliness, it also needs to address emerging questions about its past operations, such as allegedly not reporting to the appropriate

While we note the good press that surrounded the 1982 Tylenol (external-tampering) recall and have seen so far a good effort by Blue Bell to resolve its own plant contamination issue, ultimately it is contamination that is the problem. Companies can become complacent, let cleanliness slide, use outmoded procedures, not replace older equipment or even ignore warning signs and isolated contamination events. Regional and limited product line companies need to be especially cognizant that even though they have carved out a powerful niche in the marketplace, maintaining this niche is tenuous at best in the highly competitive world of food products. Cleanliness and contamination-free are assumed by consumers. Food processors and manufacturers must do everything possible to keep that assumption from becoming contradicted.

5 Personal Traits of Great Leaders

Many C-suite insurance executives complain about how difficult it is to find leaders in their organization. Many people believe leadership can’t be taught. “You know it when you see it” is a common observation. Finding a consistent definition for leadership is difficult.

How do you develop/teach/articulate a core set of traits of great leaders if it is so difficult to even define leadership? After leading various organizations ranging in size from several people to several thousand, I realize that there are fundamental core requirements needed to be an effective leader. Whether you are an entry-level employee or the chief executive of a large organization, you need these characteristics to lead.

Leadership doesn’t come from your title. It comes from how you act. People follow leaders; they don’t follow titles. As technology allows companies to be leaner, and as Millennials become a bigger part of the work force, we live in a less hierarchical and more collaborative work environment. Leadership no longer comes with a title. Today, companies need leaders at every level.

You don’t need to be outgoing or have the loudest voice in the room. People with low-key personalities can also be outstanding leaders. Personal leadership is not about self-promotion; leadership is the ability to get others to follow what you are advocating. To trust you. To respect you. To feel that your direction and requests are in everyone’s best interests, not just your own.

So what are the traits of great leaders? Here are five core personal leadership competencies that anyone must practice to be an effective leader.

1.         Integrity: Make sure you do the right thing for all the right reasons. In any leadership role, you will be called on to make difficult decisions. If you act with integrity, you will be respected. People might disagree with your decision, but they will accept your direction. One of my mentors told me, “People can spot someone who takes moral shortcuts.” Never forget: A reputation lost is a career destroyed.

2.         Courage: All leaders have courage. The courage to ask why. To challenge the status quo. To go out on a limb. To do what others are afraid to say and do. Many years ago, when  eight bottles of Tylenol were found to have been tampered with, leading to seven deaths from cyanide poisoning in the Chicago area, the CEO of Johnson & Johnson, which produced Tylenol, immediately directed that all bottles of the pain reliever be removed from every shelf in every store. He vowed that Tylenol wouldn’t be back on store shelves until the company knew that every bottle was safe. It was a bold move with a large negative impact on the company’s short-term sales. But when Tylenol did return to the counters and shelves, so did their customers.

3.         Lead by example: Don’t ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. If you are asking others to stay late, you had better, too. When I ran a new business unit, our initial office space couldn’t accommodate an office for everyone. So I sat down with my senior team, and we defined objective criteria for an office. I didn’t qualify, and, much to everyone’s surprise, I sat in a cubicle alongside the other employees. It made a statement — I play by the same rules as everyone else. Likewise, any rule or policy we adopt, I make sure I also abide by. You can’t act one way and expect others to act differently. You have to be a role model.

4.         Be a great listener: You can’t understand what’s going on around you unless you listen to others. Listening is how you learn. Listening is how you gain perspective. Listening is how you understand what’s important and what’s not. Listening is how you discover opportunities. A good listener sends a strong message to others: “I respect and care about what you say. I’m not a tyrant.” Throughout my career, the best ideas always came from people closest to the core operations I was looking to improve. You can’t find those answers unless you ask a lot of questions and listen carefully to the answers.

5.         Be a great communicator: Leaders learn to master the form and substance of communication.

Let’s start with the form of communication: the way you communicate. You can’t lead unless people understand you. Language, tone, facial and other physical expressions all send messages that affect what you are saying. (This also applies to listening. If you look away while people are talking they know you are not listening.) Here are a few tips to master good communication form:

  • Keep your message clear and concise. We live in a world of short attention spans. People get drawn away quickly. Spend time thinking about what you want to say and how best to communicate it quickly. I like to pretend I only have 30 to 60 seconds to talk. That forces me to get right to the point.
  • Use examples. They reinforce your points by tying them to real life instead of dry theories.
  • Think like a teacher. Great communicators understand that, when they are speaking to someone or to a group, they are in effect teaching others what they want them to understand.

Mastering the substance of communication means the ability to move people to react to what you are saying in the way you want. In other words, you want your words to motivate, educate and inspire.  By motivate, I mean the ability to get people to want to do something as a result of what you say. Your words ignite your listener to want to react in the way you desire. Educate means you explain why you are asking them to do something. People will follow direction — but only grudgingly if they don’t understand why they are being asked to do something. Good leaders know how to get people to understand why they should take a specific action. Inspire means the ability to touch someone with your words. Engender a positive emotion that enables them to do something they otherwise might not have done.   Inspirational leaders provide the fuel to allow others to find success.

Today’s ever-changing work environment is creating opportunities for people at all levels of an organization to lead. Those who master the personal leadership competencies that I’ve described will enrich their work experience and create wonderful opportunities for themselves and others. Enjoy the journey.

How to Spot and Avoid Your Next Crisis

Q: Can I identify my organization’s next crisis? If so, how?

A: Jim Satterfield– Undoubtedly, yes. Knowing what the next crisis might be is a way to think about planning and information. There are warning signs and indicators when we discuss human behavior. Understanding behaviors of concern and identifying them earlier in the process is imperative. It provides an idea of the frequency and severity of a situation.

If we can see those indicators, if we can identify those behaviors, then we can intervene before they become a problem. Sometimes, they are business or financial indicators; sometimes, it’s just human behavior.

On 9/11, I was EVP and chief operating officer of a public technology firm with employees in the States and around the world. When the first plane hit the first tower, we thought it could have been an accident. When the second plane hit the second tower, clearly not an accident. We called a meeting in our boardroom and, while sitting around the table, decided it was a day unlike any that we’ve ever seen.

Our management team decided it would be better to let everybody go home. I turned to our HR director and said, “Could you send a global email out to everybody in the company telling them they could just go home”? She went back to her desk, and she typed this message: “If you want to live, leave.”

The intended message was to be: “If you want to leave, leave.” Those are two entirely different messages. “If you want to live, leave.” “If you want to leave, leave.”

Thinking about your messages when you’re not under stress is very, very critical, and planning makes a difference.

Q: I already have a detailed and updated copy of our organization’s crisis plan. Do I need to have a digital copy, as well?

A: Jim Satterfield– Unless you’re planning to add a psychic on your crisis management team, it’s not going to do you any good to have an outdated or out-of-reach plan. Keeping your plans current and available is crucial. If you can’t get access to the right information at the right time, it’s not going to do you any good. “Oh, the plan’s back in the office, and I’m at home.”

Speed is quality. Getting the right answers to the right people at the right time becomes a critical element in every crisis.

Q: What should my organization’s key messages be to each stakeholder group for vulnerabilities and threats?

A: Jim Satterfield– What we’re going to say internally will be different than what we’ll say externally. Think about who your stakeholders are. If you’re in a business that’s heavily regulated, you have regulators as a stakeholder group. You have employees and investors, as well. If a school, you have parents, students and possibly church affiliation. You have various elements to be dealt with, and that makes a difference in approach.

Q: What resource can help with quick decision-making?

A: Jim Satterfield– What you do is list in one column things that could happen, things that could damage:

  • The facility
  • The employees
  • The data
  • The brand
  • The reputation

Across two more columns, we indicate what would qualify as a minor event and what is considered a crisis. You then include descriptive terms and circulate it to the entire company.

Immediately, when something comes up, refer to the matrix. If an employee is injured, but did not receive emergency treatment, it remains a minor event. If the employee had to have some medical attention, it rises to the next level. If an employee dies, that’s crisis. It’s at the highest level that management would want to be involved, so creating an event activation matrix is the fastest way to get that quick response with everyone on the same page at the same time.

Q: What are common mistakes people have made during a crisis?

A: Jim Satterfield– These are the five failures that we see over and over and over again in a disaster or crisis:

  • Failure to control critical supply chains
  • Failure to train employees for both work and home
  • Failure to identify and monitor all threats and risks
  • Failure to conduct exercises and update plan
  • Failure to develop crisis communications plans
  • About 70% of employees don’t know what they’re supposed to do in a disaster or a crisis. In addition, 95% don’t have a disaster plan at home. If something happens in your area, and you think your family is at risk, family wins. That’s why people don’t show up in a crisis, because they’re concerned about their family.

    We work on these failures through our Predict/Plan/Perform process. First, identify groups. Then conduct exercises and establish how you’re going to monitor and communicate. When you think about your individual plans, think about them in light of these groups. You need to build preparation in from all of these groups that could ultimately be a problem within the organization.

    Q: Are school students classified under workplace violence?

    A: Jim Satterfield– Yes, because it’s a workplace. The school is a workplace, yes.

    Q: Prevention is rare in organizations that have small staffs. Have you found organizations are willing to assign staff to conduct social media monitoring on their time?

    A: Jim Satterfield– They can, or you can use an outside service that will do it for you. This route is much more cost-effective. Why? Because that’s the specialist’s full-time job.

    Whatever your full-time job is, you’re good at that job. If you only do something every now and then, you’re not going to be as good, and you may miss an important signal or piece of information.

    We are finding organizations — both large and small — are conducting monitoring as a preventative measure, and we conduct such intelligence gathering for a number of clients.

    Protecting Your Corporate Reputation

    A company’s reputation, which is core to its profitability and long-term competitiveness, faces new challenges as information speeds blindly through online media and social networks. Lanny Davis, former assistant to President Clinton on crisis management and principal in Lanny J. Davis & Associates, recently noted that, in the age of the Internet, “you never get a second chance to change a first impression. Once your reputation is smeared and your character unfairly attacked, the eternal misinformation echo chamber of the search engine allows the harm to continue eternally, unless you fight back — early, with all the facts, often yourself — until the truth gets in the way of the search engine lies.”

    When a corporate reputation is tarnished, a company can lose its trust factor; investor confidence is weakened; and a company’s share price can be reduced.  In extreme cases, a damaged reputation can lead to a company’s downfall. “Hackgate,” “Rupertgate,” or “Murdochgate” -– names given by the press to the News International phone-hacking scandal – led to the demise of News of the World newspaper.

    Let’s make a list of some leading triggers to reputation failure: 

    • unethical behavior such as Sears’ management team’s unrealistic performance quotas for its car repair business, which led to overbilling and created a scandal in the 1990s.
    • financial irregularities, such as those that led to Enron’s bankruptcy.
    • executive misconduct, such as the conviction tied to insider trading that led to Martha Stewart’s resignation.
    • environmental violations, such as Nike’s exploitation of workers in sweatshops, failure to provide work environments that are safe and contact with cotton factories using slave labor—issues that dogged Nike through the 1990s and beyond.
    • safety & health product recalls, such as followed allegations of “unintended acceleration” in Toyota cars.
    • security breaches, such as the recent one at Target in which tens of millions of people had credit-card data stolen.

    In other words, much as Murphy’s Law says:  “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” 

    What should a corporation do to protect its reputation? 

    • Use your CEO: Fred Smith, FedEx’s legendary founder, is a good example.  A good CEO embodies and reiterates a company’s values, code of ethics and vision.  Your CEO regularly communicates honesty and transparency and is trusted with your corporate reputation. 
    • Perform an S.W.O.T. analysis: Identify your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. 
    • Develop a corporate reputation strategy:  Johnson & Johnson is still reaping reputation benefits more than 30 years after its swift and sweeping recall of Tylenol and institution of tamper-proof packaging after some maniac laced some pills with cyanide and put them in bottles on store shelves, killing seven people.
    • Monitor your reputation online.  Constantly check social media sites and your own website. No company can afford to be reputation-blind, and no suit of armor is impenetrable.
    • Be honest, factual and open with the media. 
    • Create a plan to manage an unexpected crisis.  Execution is the cornerstone. Train everyone on identifying the crisis, what to do and who gets contacted.   Preparation is essential to managing potential and actual crises in a timely fashion.  Communication is no longer one-way; it’s now two-way. 
    • Evaluate the purchase of corporate reputation insurance. For 20 years, the insurance industry has known that how a company manages a reputation crisis will have a dramatic impact on the cost of civil litigation arising out of that crisis.  For this reason, insurance purchased for the risk of shareholder lawsuits, directors and officers insurance, has from time to time included an option to purchase, or included automatically, “crisis management” insurance. This reimburses the company for the cost of crisis management expert fees up to a set amount, usually $50,000 to $200,000.

    However, since 2010, there has been an outbreak of “new and improved” reputation insurance policies from name-brand insurance carriers like Zurich (Brand Assurance), AIG (ReputationGuard), Munich Re (Reputation Insurance) and a number of Lloyds syndicates, including a standalone reputation policy produced by Steel City Re.

    Some carriers emphasize reimbursement of crisis-management expenses while others are more geared toward reimbursing a company for a loss. Finding the right one, or right combination, can be challenging, but they are worth a look.

    Be sure to check out Thought Leader Ty Sagalow's recent appearance on New York News!

    New York News

    Managing The Victim Dimension Of Large-Scale Disasters, Part 2

    This is the second article in a multi-part series on “victim management” in the wake of large-scale disasters and crises. Additional articles in the series can be found here: Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4.

    Management Culture Prevents Adequate Victim Management
    In America today, the process of becoming a leader, manager, or professional involves, in part, deliberate and calculated de-emotionalization. This is the attitude and practice that only those actions and decisions that can be easily measured, quantified, or metricized are important. This approach generally ignores people and people issues and the things that happen to people or that people care about. Management culture simply deemphasizes and devalues anything that is difficult to quantify — that is, emotional or “soft.”

    On top of this, managers, leaders, and professionals are trained to discredit, discount, disregard, disrespect, and even demean virtually every kind of emotional expression. Peers, shareholders, and colleagues in the business community expect crisis-affected managers to tough it out and avoid looking like sissies, at least at first. It is okay to give in after victims have been ignored, insulted, demeaned, and slapped around a bit. The result is that management's response to crisis often comes across as what it truly is — callous, arrogant, cold, and heartless. It is true that managers, leaders, and professionals are not compensated for their level of empathy, especially in crisis. The lesson is that what doesn't get paid for doesn't get done.

    Our country's business culture systematically avoids emotional issues. Business people are taught a kind of decision-making ritual — one in which even the most urgent decisions are made through a process of conflict, confrontation, and aggressive intellectual and verbal combat. Looked at through the lens of victimization, this approach is time consuming and distracts from the humane immediacy victim response requires. Too much delay, and the perceptions of arrogance, callousness, and culpability take over, especially if management hesitates, acts timidly, or is initially hostile and negative toward victims.

    What The Boss Should Really Do In A Crisis
    From another perspective, one of the more powerful weaknesses in crisis response is the lack of specific roles and assignments for top management. The result of this crucial gap in crisis management planning is the mismanagement, lack of management, or paralysis that afflicts crisis response efforts. This defect occurs all too frequently in plans I review, responses I analyze, and scenarios I explore with client companies. In the course of directing crisis response, analyzing past responses to crisis, or developing powerful response strategies, it's clear that crisis response promptness and effectiveness depend on having five essential responsibilities spelled out carefully in every crisis plan for the CEO and top management (or surviving leaders):

    1. Assert the moral authority expected of ethical leadership.
    2. Take responsibility for the care of victims.
    3. Set the appropriate tone for the organizational response.
    4. Set the organization's voice.
    5. Commit acts of leadership at every level.

    Assert The Moral Authority Expected Of Ethical Leadership
    No matter how devastating or catastrophic the crisis is, in most cultures forgiveness is possible provided the organization, through its early behaviors and leadership, takes appropriate and expected steps to learn from and deal with the crisis-causing issues. The behaviors, briefly and in order, are as follows:

    • Candor and disclosure (acknowledgment that something adverse has happened or is happening);
    • Explanation and revelation about the nature of the problem (some early analysis);
    • Commitment to communicate throughout the process (even if there are lots of critics);
    • Empathy (intentional acts of helpfulness, kindness, and compassion);
    • Oversight (inviting outsiders, even victims, to look over your shoulder);
    • Commitment to zero (finding ways to prevent similar events from occurring again);
    • and,

    • Restitution or penance (paying the price — generally doing more than would be expected, asked for, or required).

    Take Responsibility For The Care Of Victims
    The single most crucial element in any crisis, aside from ending the victim-causing event, is managing the victim dimension. There are three kinds of victims: people, animals, and living systems. It's top management's responsibility to see that appropriate steps are taken to care for victims' needs. This is both a reputation preservation and a litigation reduction activity. Most devastating responses to crises occur when victims are left to their own devices, when victims' needs go unfulfilled, or when for whatever reasons (usually legal) the organization that created the victims refuses to take even the simplest of humane steps to ease the pain, suffering, and victimization of those afflicted. Out of all of the CEO's essential responsibilities, taking a personal interest and an active role in the care of victims is the most important. Senior executives should maintain a positive, constructive pressure to get victim issues resolved promptly.

    Set The Appropriate Tone For The Organizational Response
    Tone refers to internal management behavior that helps the organization meet the expectations triggered by a crucial, critical, or catastrophic situation. If senior management takes on the posture of being attacked or victimized, the entire organization will react in the same way. Very rarely are large organizations and institutions considered victims. They're generally considered to be the perpetrators at worst or arrogant bystanders at best.

    It's the most senior executives who need to set a constructive tone that encourages positive attitudes and language and prompt responses. This approach protects the organization's relationships with various constituents during the response and recovery period, shows respect for victims, and reduces the threat of further trust or reputation damage.

    Set The Organization's Voice
    Top management must put a face and a voice on the organization or institution as it moves through the crisis. This action is directed first toward the internal world, then second toward the external world — how you describe yourself, what you're doing, how the response is going, what responsibilities you're taking, and what outside scrutiny you're inviting.

    Selecting a spokesperson who understands what the various publics and audiences are expecting, as well as what the various medias require, is essential in successfully managing the visibility of any crisis situation. The complexity of crises today, as well as the complexity of coverage, probably requires a range of expertise and more than one individual to be responsible, ready, and prepared to present an organization's case internally and externally. Depending on the severity of the situation, this duty often falls to the chief executive. Generally, the more severe the level of damage and number of victims, the more senior the operating individual needs to be to become the face of the organization and its voice. The more extensive the crisis, the more likely it is that there will be a number of spokespeople, including professional communicators, subject matter experts, and operating executives.

    The weight of crisis management falls most heavily on organizational leaders and leadership, primarily the chief executive. Recent trends demonstrate that no matter how effectively a chief executive leads the response to a crisis situation, the likelihood seems extremely high that this person will be relieved of his or her duties at some point relatively soon, often well before the crisis itself is totally resolved. Even if a senior executive has someone else carry out these duties, public expectations have been shaped toward placing blame on and seeking retribution from the highest individual on duty at the time of the circumstance.

    Commit Acts Of Leadership At Every Level
    Leaders acting like leaders have significance during urgent situations. Senior executives should literally walk around and talk to people. They should encourage, suggest, knock down barriers, and help everyone stay focused on the ultimate goals of the response process. Random acts of leadership are always welcome in any environment, but especially during crisis. Rather than huddling in their executive offices trying to determine what steps should be taken to resolve the situation, 90% of senior executive activities should have them out and about, being leaders, motivators, and instigators of empathy, rather than sitting in their offices or bugging responders in the command center.

    All crises are management problems first. Preplanning executive actions focused on the most essential and important circumstance — that is, the victims — can avoid career-defining moments. Another crucial strategic responsibility of company leadership is to have in place a victim response unit and special victim action teams, reflecting participation by communicators, the legal department, and human resources, to immediately help management avoid the collateral damage and devastating consequences of mismanaging the victim dimension and to keep management focused on the significant benefits to reputation, public trust, and legal liability reduction that will be achieved by prompt, empathetic, and apologetic management of victims.

    This series first appeared as an article in Leadership and Management in Engineering, a publication of the American Society of Civil Engineers.