Tag Archives: victim management

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.

Managing The Victim Dimension Of Large-Scale Disasters, Part 1

This is the first article in a multi-part series on “victim management” in the wake of large-scale disasters and crises. Subsequent articles in the series can be found here: Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

When disaster strikes, we do get glimpses of the physical and infrastructure damage, but the news and most of the pictures are about the victims. If anything, while the broken facility, structures, and topography of the land or substructure of the earth do get talked about, it is the relentless pictures, descriptions, interviews, commentary, and desperation of the victims that determine the coverage, the public consciousness, and the legacy of the tragedy. The most glaring deficiency in the crisis and business recovery plans I review each year is the absence of a victim management strategy.

Based on just over 30 years as a senior adviser to top management in crisis situations, it seems to me that almost every function in an organization in crisis focuses on its own activities or those directly allied to it and leaves the question of victim management to someone else.

My major career focus has been management communication and leadership recovery, always within the context of some serious, urgent, or contentious situation. I noticed early in my career that the main drivers of contention, confrontation, and conflict, aside from the news media, were generally the victims of the events at hand. They got the air time, they got the print space, and they got the attention of government. Yet managements generally treated victims as perpetrators, malingerers, and people in search of cash. But I also noticed that victims, even more than critics, tended to dominate the outcomes of the crisis and problems I was working on. Victims had enormous power.

In 1999, an extraordinary article appeared in the December issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, “Risk Management: Extreme Honesty May Be the Best Policy” (Kraman and Hamm 1999). This paper described a 10-year study carried out by the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, for the purpose of determining how to resolve patient-related incidents in ways that might reduce litigation by patients and their families. In the intervening years, a lot has been written on the subject of extreme empathy, candor, and apology, mostly driven by insurance companies who have discovered that these empathetic techniques, promptly applied, can reduce and in many cases eliminate litigation and speed settlement.

Today the most crucial component of all crisis response, victim management, remains missing from most responses. Clearly, it is possible to respond to crisis with a nearly textbook technical performance. But failure to promptly, humanely, and empathetically see that victims' needs are met will eclipse a flawless response, and instead the response will be remembered for its angry survivors, relatives, public officials, occasionally competitors, but almost always the critics, and the emotional voices of the victims.

The two most crucial ingredients of crisis management are effective and accurate communication and then prompt resolution of the issues surrounding victims. This series familiarizes and sensitizes the technical expert reader with the extraordinary impact and emotional power victims bring to any crisis situation. Some important techniques and approaches will be discussed, including

  1. The nature of victimization, and why victims have so much power;
  2. The behavior of management and its advisers that triggers, initiates, or prolongs victimization;
  3. What victims need, along with constructive strategies that can resolve these different situations quickly and often avoid litigation;
  4. Who can be victims — people, animals, and living systems;
  5. Causes of victimization;
  6. What victims feel and why they tend to act and remain so upset;
  7. Three crucial states of the victim experience — intellectual deafness, 24-7 immersion, and endless questioning; and
  8. What victims need — validation, visibility, vindication, and extreme empathy/apology.

While this topic may seem far from the domain of the civil engineer and civil engineering issues in crisis, just remember Hurricane Katrina (2005), the 2007 I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, the 2011 tsunamis in Japan and Indonesia, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, and even the Titanic disaster of 1912. All were clearly engineering and recovery challenges. However, the big stories, the lasting stories, were always about the victims. The public memory of these events is rarely about the details of design failure or faulty construction. We remember the faces and the turmoil of the victims. Had the I-35W bridge collapsed without any impact on animals, people, or the surrounding environment, it would have been an interesting, probably 1- or 2-day story.

Going forward, of all the disaster-related litigation, it is the litigation concerning restitution and resolution of victim issues that lasts the longest, costs the most, and has the highest profile. Your destiny and reputation will be defined by how you communicate and your treatment of victims far more than by any engineering solution you may accomplish or invent.

It's About Victims
There are seven powerful reasons why managing victims is so difficult:

  1. Victim behavior is emotional and, some would say, irrational.
  2. Management is reluctant to promptly assume blame or responsibility, or even admit that errors have occurred.
  3. Management's obsession with results over something that is clearly emotional, and by and large immeasurable, forces them to appear antivictim, emotionless, and cold.
  4. Management is poorly equipped to deal with emotional circumstances, given that training in anthropology, ethics, and managing emotional circumstances is almost nonexistent in engineering and business schools and in business life.
  5. Expectations and performance measures of managers and management advisers are generally based on rational factors and leave little room for imprecise and often suspect emotional circumstances.
  6. Management relies too heavily on peer pressure and legal advice to avoid apologizing or even expressing extreme empathy.
  7. Managers and leaders responding with empathy and sympathy may be criticized as soft or sentimental.

To begin our discussion, we need three important definitions:

  1. Crisis: I define a crisis as a people-stopping, show-stopping, product-stopping, reputation-defining, and trust-busting event that creates victims and/or explosive visibility. Crises are caused by human beings intentionally, through commission or omission, and sometimes unintentionally, through accident, negligence, or ignorance.
  2. Disasters: Disasters can be defined as extraordinary circumstances generally caused by forces beyond the control of persons who could be identified and blamed. Disasters are generally natural events beyond human control — tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and incredibly powerful storms. Disasters produce victims, but unless responders act negatively, carelessly, or callously, there is far less potential for blame, bad news, or mindless victimization and collateral damage.
  3. Disaster transformed into crisis: What transforms a disaster into a crisis are responders and leaders who foul up the management of victims.

Katrina was just a hurricane, a very big one, before it became a crisis for responders, government, and the environment. The I-35W collapse was a rather mindless engineering mishap, except that people were injured and killed as a part of the circumstances, and the drama associated with their rescue and recovery transformed that event into a crisis. The extraordinary devastation in Japan from earthquake-driven tsunamis in 2011 exposed extraordinary deficiencies in their readiness and recovery systems and especially in their nuclear facilities. In contrast, the massive devastation by tsunamis in Indonesia, in the same year, triggered a worldwide response. Even though thousands died and many more were left homeless and injured, the extraordinary response and the country's own efforts really allowed this event to remain very solidly in the disaster category. One contradictory lesson is, as will be illustrated further, that even when victims appear to be treated reasonably, almost any disaster can quickly become a crisis.

First Response Priorities
To give this discussion context, it's important to understand the power of first response priorities. First response priorities as executed can mitigate reputational damage. Successful crisis (victim-producing) response (victim reduction) is based on sensible, focused, constructive, and positive response option execution, fundamentally sound decision making, and action. Ignoring or shortcutting any of these priorities is what can turn a relatively minor incident into a major, long-term, uncontrollable, reputation-defining, and persistently negative series of events.

Model Grand First Response Strategy

  • Response Priority 1: Stop the production of victims. Identify problems and set response priorities. Resolve the problem promptly; begin addressing key issues. If it's leaking, foaming, smoking, burning, or otherwise creating victims, deal with the underlying problem first. Failure to stop producing victims makes your crisis response, no matter how competent, look weak, timid, clumsy, and, in fact, incompetent.
  • Response Priority 2: Manage the victim dimension. It is victims and others who are directly affected that cause incidents to become crises. Be prepared to understand the dynamics of victims and anticipate those dynamics as the response process proceeds.
  • Response Priority 3: Communicate with employees. Every employee becomes a communicator when something adverse happens. Whether there are 10 employees or 10,000 employees, when questionable activity or crisis occurs, everyone affected becomes a communicator. Inform, educate, and script employees promptly, using brief but frequent, short statements. The counterintuitive result of this strategy is that employees are generally far quieter and will allow management to move forward with its response.
  • Response Priority 4: Contact and assist those indirectly affected. Every crisis causes damage, injury, or fear in a large number of individuals who are indirectly affected, including friends, families, relatives, neighbors, regulators, governments, allied organizations, and interest groups. Your emergency may affect other agencies, or your problems may taint your relationship with an ally, allied organization, or interest group. Inform them very promptly.
  • Response Priority 5: Deal with the self-appointed, the self-anointed, and the medias, new and legacy. Today every crisis brings out individuals and organizations with their own agendas. Any crisis presents the opportunity to activate these agendas. Yes, the legacy news media can still bring substantial attention to a crisis and to the perpetrator. But today, everyone can be a reporter, with the potential to cover any crisis story from his or her own perspective, and it is the victims that will gather the attention, often using the smartphone production centers of the new-media journalists.

The key concept to remember here is that each of these five steps must be activated in the first hour (the so-called golden hour), or first two hours, of any crisis. Those not activated will cause additional victims, questions, and misunderstandings, which the perpetrator will have to deal with as the crisis unfolds. In other words, act fast, because speed beats smart, every time. This series deals with the first two priorities: stopping the production of victims and managing the victim dimension.

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

Managing The Victim Dimension Of Large-Scale Disasters

This is the first article in a multi-part series on “victim management” in the wake of large-scale disasters and crises. Subsequent articles in the series can be found here: Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.

When disaster strikes, we do get glimpses of the physical and infrastructure damage, but the news and most of the pictures are about the victims. If anything, while the broken facility, structures, and topography of the land or substructure of the earth do get talked about, it is the relentless pictures, descriptions, interviews, commentary, and desperation of the victims that determine the coverage, the public consciousness, and the legacy of the tragedy. The most glaring deficiency in the crisis and business recovery plans I review each year is the absence of a victim management strategy.

Based on just over 30 years as a senior adviser to top management in crisis situations, it seems to me that almost every function in an organization in crisis focuses on its own activities or those directly allied to it and leaves the question of victim management to someone else.

My major career focus has been management communication and leadership recovery, always within the context of some serious, urgent, or contentious situation. I noticed early in my career that the main drivers of contention, confrontation, and conflict, aside from the news media, were generally the victims of the events at hand. They got the air time, they got the print space, and they got the attention of government. Yet managements generally treated victims as perpetrators, malingerers, and people in search of cash. But I also noticed that victims, even more than critics, tended to dominate the outcomes of the crisis and problems I was working on. Victims had enormous power.

In 1999, an extraordinary article appeared in the December issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, “Risk Management: Extreme Honesty May Be the Best Policy” (Kraman and Hamm 1999). This paper described a 10-year study carried out by the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, for the purpose of determining how to resolve patient-related incidents in ways that might reduce litigation by patients and their families. In the intervening years, a lot has been written on the subject of extreme empathy, candor, and apology, mostly driven by insurance companies who have discovered that these empathetic techniques, promptly applied, can reduce and in many cases eliminate litigation and speed settlement.

Today the most crucial component of all crisis response, victim management, remains missing from most responses. Clearly, it is possible to respond to crisis with a nearly textbook technical performance. But failure to promptly, humanely, and empathetically see that victims’ needs are met will eclipse a flawless response, and instead the response will be remembered for its angry survivors, relatives, public officials, occasionally competitors, but almost always the critics, and the emotional voices of the victims.

The two most crucial ingredients of crisis management are effective and accurate communication and then prompt resolution of the issues surrounding victims. This series familiarizes and sensitizes the technical expert reader with the extraordinary impact and emotional power victims bring to any crisis situation. Some important techniques and approaches will be discussed, including

  1. The nature of victimization, and why victims have so much power;
  2. The behavior of management and its advisers that triggers, initiates, or prolongs victimization;
  3. What victims need, along with constructive strategies that can resolve these different situations quickly and often avoid litigation;
  4. Who can be victims — people, animals, and living systems;
  5. Causes of victimization;
  6. What victims feel and why they tend to act and remain so upset;
  7. Three crucial states of the victim experience — intellectual deafness, 24-7 immersion, and endless questioning; and
  8. What victims need — validation, visibility, vindication, and extreme empathy/apology.

While this topic may seem far from the domain of the civil engineer and civil engineering issues in crisis, just remember Hurricane Katrina (2005), the 2007 I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, the 2011 tsunamis in Japan and Indonesia, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, and even the Titanic disaster of 1912. All were clearly engineering and recovery challenges. However, the big stories, the lasting stories, were always about the victims. The public memory of these events is rarely about the details of design failure or faulty construction. We remember the faces and the turmoil of the victims. Had the I-35W bridge collapsed without any impact on animals, people, or the surrounding environment, it would have been an interesting, probably 1- or 2-day story.

Going forward, of all the disaster-related litigation, it is the litigation concerning restitution and resolution of victim issues that lasts the longest, costs the most, and has the highest profile. Your destiny and reputation will be defined by how you communicate and your treatment of victims far more than by any engineering solution you may accomplish or invent.

It’s About Victims
There are seven powerful reasons why managing victims is so difficult:

  1. Victim behavior is emotional and, some would say, irrational.
  2. Management is reluctant to promptly assume blame or responsibility, or even admit that errors have occurred.
  3. Management’s obsession with results over something that is clearly emotional, and by and large immeasurable, forces them to appear antivictim, emotionless, and cold.
  4. Management is poorly equipped to deal with emotional circumstances, given that training in anthropology, ethics, and managing emotional circumstances is almost nonexistent in engineering and business schools and in business life.
  5. Expectations and performance measures of managers and management advisers are generally based on rational factors and leave little room for imprecise and often suspect emotional circumstances.
  6. Management relies too heavily on peer pressure and legal advice to avoid apologizing or even expressing extreme empathy.
  7. Managers and leaders responding with empathy and sympathy may be criticized as soft or sentimental.

To begin our discussion, we need three important definitions:

  1. Crisis: I define a crisis as a people-stopping, show-stopping, product-stopping, reputation-defining, and trust-busting event that creates victims and/or explosive visibility. Crises are caused by human beings intentionally, through commission or omission, and sometimes unintentionally, through accident, negligence, or ignorance.
  2. Disasters: Disasters can be defined as extraordinary circumstances generally caused by forces beyond the control of persons who could be identified and blamed. Disasters are generally natural events beyond human control — tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and incredibly powerful storms. Disasters produce victims, but unless responders act negatively, carelessly, or callously, there is far less potential for blame, bad news, or mindless victimization and collateral damage.
  3. Disaster transformed into crisis: What transforms a disaster into a crisis are responders and leaders who foul up the management of victims.

Katrina was just a hurricane, a very big one, before it became a crisis for responders, government, and the environment. The I-35W collapse was a rather mindless engineering mishap, except that people were injured and killed as a part of the circumstances, and the drama associated with their rescue and recovery transformed that event into a crisis. The extraordinary devastation in Japan from earthquake-driven tsunamis in 2011 exposed extraordinary deficiencies in their readiness and recovery systems and especially in their nuclear facilities. In contrast, the massive devastation by tsunamis in Indonesia, in the same year, triggered a worldwide response. Even though thousands died and many more were left homeless and injured, the extraordinary response and the country’s own efforts really allowed this event to remain very solidly in the disaster category. One contradictory lesson is, as will be illustrated further, that even when victims appear to be treated reasonably, almost any disaster can quickly become a crisis.

First Response Priorities
To give this discussion context, it’s important to understand the power of first response priorities. First response priorities as executed can mitigate reputational damage. Successful crisis (victim-producing) response (victim reduction) is based on sensible, focused, constructive, and positive response option execution, fundamentally sound decision making, and action. Ignoring or shortcutting any of these priorities is what can turn a relatively minor incident into a major, long-term, uncontrollable, reputation-defining, and persistently negative series of events.

Model Grand First Response Strategy

  • Response Priority 1: Stop the production of victims. Identify problems and set response priorities. Resolve the problem promptly; begin addressing key issues. If it’s leaking, foaming, smoking, burning, or otherwise creating victims, deal with the underlying problem first. Failure to stop producing victims makes your crisis response, no matter how competent, look weak, timid, clumsy, and, in fact, incompetent.
  • Response Priority 2: Manage the victim dimension. It is victims and others who are directly affected that cause incidents to become crises. Be prepared to understand the dynamics of victims and anticipate those dynamics as the response process proceeds.
  • Response Priority 3: Communicate with employees. Every employee becomes a communicator when something adverse happens. Whether there are 10 employees or 10,000 employees, when questionable activity or crisis occurs, everyone affected becomes a communicator. Inform, educate, and script employees promptly, using brief but frequent, short statements. The counterintuitive result of this strategy is that employees are generally far quieter and will allow management to move forward with its response.
  • Response Priority 4: Contact and assist those indirectly affected. Every crisis causes damage, injury, or fear in a large number of individuals who are indirectly affected, including friends, families, relatives, neighbors, regulators, governments, allied organizations, and interest groups. Your emergency may affect other agencies, or your problems may taint your relationship with an ally, allied organization, or interest group. Inform them very promptly.
  • Response Priority 5: Deal with the self-appointed, the self-anointed, and the medias, new and legacy. Today every crisis brings out individuals and organizations with their own agendas. Any crisis presents the opportunity to activate these agendas. Yes, the legacy news media can still bring substantial attention to a crisis and to the perpetrator. But today, everyone can be a reporter, with the potential to cover any crisis story from his or her own perspective, and it is the victims that will gather the attention, often using the smartphone production centers of the new-media journalists.

The key concept to remember here is that each of these five steps must be activated in the first hour (the so-called golden hour), or first two hours, of any crisis. Those not activated will cause additional victims, questions, and misunderstandings, which the perpetrator will have to deal with as the crisis unfolds. In other words, act fast, because speed beats smart, every time. This series deals with the first two priorities: stopping the production of victims and managing the victim dimension.

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