The handling of a crisis well has always had the same important ingredients, what has significantly changed is that the power of social media means that the word gets out, and any false steps or errors or should we call that just “misspoke” in this day and age, gets amplified and distributed exceptionally quickly.
What I have observed is how some organisations are more likely to get into a crisis and suffer incalculable damage whilst a few can actually come out of it stronger with a better reputation and commercial performance.
For me, this is mostly about leadership, and the values and ethics of that leadership, and how they are disseminated through the organisation for better or ill.
There is an Arabic saying which I like which says “A fish does not get rotten from the tail up”. Something which I fundamentally agree with.
What this saying means is that leaders with questionable values can be destructive. They can be more motivated by maximising the returns for their organisation, or whatever KPIs have been set for them for their remuneration, than on build a great company.
I am also a great believer in the adage that financial models drive behaviour. Examples of this abound, not least the last financial crisis that thrust the global economy into a sustained period of shock and has been the subject of much “ten years on” discussions over the last week.
The leaders then may or may not have been breaking the law, but most were definitely sailing as close to the wind as possible, aided by teams of well paid law firms to maximise their returns within the strict limits of the law – albeit not the intent of the regulations as drafted.
They were also surrounded by the same lawyers and well paid communications advisers when troubles arose, who did their utmost to deflect responsibility or acceptance of any of the blame associated with the unforeseen impacts of their collective actions.
Some firms suffered and some survived, but no one died, and that is capitalism – right?
I beg to differ, as I feel many of the crises we faced are avoidable and can be mitigated sooner and more effectively with strong and ethical leadership. Steven Covey, who whilst he is heavily influenced by Mormon principles, many of which I take issue with, made some very sound statements. One I like is “You can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved your way into”.
But, I hear people ask, if you have the top legal, commercial and communications hired help around you, surely you can!
Historically, you may have been able to do that, but I would argue that the digital world makes that increasingly less likely every day. The internet, combined with social media, means that it is increasingly difficult to hide how you behave, as sooner or later you will be found out, and rightly so. The internet is a great leveller, as well as another reason why respect for authority is now no longer given but has to be earnt in thought and deed by our leaders.
This to me is no bad thing. My generation has much to answer for, the single-minded pursuit of material gain as the only true measure of achievement is something I have never signed up to. That is also why I have so much faith in our much-maligned millennials and entrepreneurs. I am impressed with their dedication to work, their resourcefulness and their determination to further themselves.
More so I am impressed with their attitude and values, the majority I know are not only trying to improve themselves but do it in a way that is also to the benefit of their colleagues, partners, customers and the world as a whole. They are trying to make the world a better place and I feel strongly they will succeed.
The sooner my generation hands over the reigns to this generation the better the world will be. It will not always work of course. But the spirit and values driving it means I have faith that they can sort out the problems we have created and improve the world as we know it. More power to their elbow.
That is also the best way to avoid or indeed tackle any crisis.
I will leave you with another quote from Steven Covey “If you can hire people whose passions intersects with the job, they won’t require any supervision at all. They will manage themselves better than anyone could have ever manage them. Their fire comes from within, not without.”