Monday, November 8, 2010

Qantas explosion communication

Qantas has just come through one of the toughest critical events in the airline's history. The airline has handled a mid-air explosion with professionalism, speed and sensitivity. One of Qantas' Airbus A380's four Rolls Royce engines failed in flight, not far from Singapore, on the way to Sydney. "I just heard this massive bang like a shotgun going off," a passenger said on Australia's Nine Network news. "Part of the skin had peeled off and you could see the foam underneath. Pieces of broken wire sticking out." The aircraft landed safely in Singapore and all 459 people on board were unhurt.

A strong message of incident control was delivered rapidly across the media about the escalating situation, first by the aircraft's Captain, and then by the CEO to qualify the facts. Qantas made sure the passengers got a chance to tell their story.

Qantas Captain, Richard Champion de Crespigny, was given accolades for his communication skills and the way in which he explained the incident on board. When the engine exploded he spoke to the passengers immediately. "I do apologise. I am sure you are aware we have a technical issue with our number two engine...I am sure you are aware we are not proceeding to Sydney at this stage...the aircraft is flying safely at this stage...thank you for your patience."

In fact part of the engine had come away and torn through the left wing. Indonesian media showed Facebook pictures of debris that had fallen from the aircraft onto an island. Qantas has grounded its fleet of A380s as safety regulators and investigators from Rolls Royce and Qantas carry out tests to determine the cause.

Alan Joyce, Qantas' proactive CEO, moved forward with the company's response. "This was a significant engine failure," he told a press conference. "We are not underestimating the significance of this issue."

Earlier this year, Alan Joyce told Business Review Weekly: "We have a fairly refined crisis management team and crisis management process, probably more so than many other companies. It’s what my predecessor, Geoff Dixon, calls the ‘constant shock syndrome’. We plan on a steady state and then we plan scenarios and risks around that.”

Qantas has never had a fatal accident and there have been no fatal accidents involving the A380.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chile rescue crisis high ground

The Chilean miners are safe on high ground after one of the most intense rescues in modern mining history. Thirty three men safely recovered after 68 days of critical and dangerous recovery. The government of Chile can stand proud in the knowledge that it achieved a dynamic process of crisis management response and leadership. In short, they under-promised and over-delivered.

Chilean President, Sebastian Pinera, and the Minister for Mining, Laurence Golborne, took the high ground in taking control of rescue operations and leadership. They delivered the status of the rescue accurately and transparently. A very different result to mining disasters like Sago in West Virginia where a tired, washed out CEO gave the news that 13 miners were alive, and a short time later it was announced that 12 people had died and only one had survived. The Chilean example of crisis leadership also differs greatly to the confusing response to the devastating Hurricane Katrina and more recently the BP oil spill.

The keys to the success of this crisis outcome relate very much to the Chilean government having a focused crisis plan and communicating proactive, clear messages to essential stakeholders. The first and most important audience were the miners and the community, and the government placed them at the centre of their communication strategy. The government's candour with the mine's employees and community increased its credibility with a massive number of global media. Credibility translated into fair treatment and respect for the rescue process.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Key points in handling crisis interviews

After 20 years of orchestrating, rehearsing and attending media interviews at real or rehearsed crises, I am convinced that spokespersons delivering media interviews in times of critical events need to be prepared to deliver concise answers quickly and effectively. They need to show leadership and agenda control. In these days of the instant news grab, long-winded statements are useless.

Here is my hit list for handling crisis interviews and taking the high ground:

• Take time to rehearse your key messages.
• Do the interview sooner rather than later.
• Avoid sit-down interviews. Stand up and deliver.
• Give the right facts before they suggest the wrong ones.
• Start with a statement of sympathy and understanding.
• Link your actions with those of the authorities.
• Stay calm and positive. Show you are in total control.
• Get your main points across at the start - live interviews are fast.
• Be brief in all your answers.
• Correct any introductory misinformation or negative statements.
• Don’t respond to rumour or innuendo.
• Finish the interview before it finishes you.
• Tell them you will return soon and give them more.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Managing crises overseas

The growing interest in investment abroad means that many of the world’s largest companies are continually moving into new areas offering a broad range of opportunities.

Growth for US and UK companies in oil, gas, mining and construction continues, as do the areas of manufacturing, telecommunication, retail and financial services. The fastest growing new development areas are China, South America and Eastern Europe.

As companies go global, the threat to the security of people, technology, information and assets gains in impact. Doing business in foreign countries does have crisis connotations and can mean a life or death difference for an organisation.

Dealing with the problems of a changing political arena, threats of bribery, sabotage, vandalism, theft, having to deal and negotiate with irrational customers in distant locations, being faced with problems of armed intrusion or trespassers and the growing international problem of drug abuse, are all threats that need to be recognised and planned for.

A crisis in another country often does not fit into any known framework. The organisational response, therefore, has to deal with the problem of finding people to manage the problem at the same time as anticipating the escalation factor and providing support for the most exposed aspects of the business.

There is simply little time for planning, organising, equipping or training once the crisis is imminent.

Importantly, the crisis management approach needs to ensure that the various operations and projects of an international operation are in a constant state of readiness and that crisis teams know what to do and how to do it.

Basically, the objectives of any plan should be to protect the company’s people and assets. International operations crisis management objectives:

1. Protect the life of employees and their families.
2. Protect assets and earnings by restoring normal operations rapidly.
3. Protect the local community and environment.
4. Minimise damage to corporate reputation.
5. Retain effective relationships with government of the country

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Product recall crisis fatalities

Not planning for a product recall escalating to crisis leaves a corporation, its brand and reputation extremely vulnerable. We have seen this in massive pharmaceutical, automotive, food, children’s toys and even pet food recalls.

No-one can forget the shockwaves that came out of the Tylenol Paracetamol cyanide poisoning in Chicago back in the 1980s when two mothers, two sisters, a bride, a 12 year-old girl and a stewardess all died from deliberate poisoning. The product crisis was immediate and tragic. Johnson & Johnson recalled Tylenol and, working with the Federal Drug Administration, developed a tamper-proof package for redistribution at a cost of $150 million.

Globally, there is a tightening of product safety controls. Regulators are looking for thorough, fast response to recalling a faulty or contaminated product in terms of consumer contact and recovery of products. The fact is, incidents of product recalls escalating to crisis are occurring with greater frequency than ever before.

Corporations need to establish crisis teams that can respond fast to a critical product recall. Threats need to be identified in advance. Product recall processes need to include a crisis trigger.

Deliberate contamination or threats to a product that might kill or injure are crises that require the immediate involvement of law enforcement agencies.

Running regular product recall and integrated crisis exercises will anticipate and deflect or reduce the impact of the worst case scenario.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Capturing Crisis Management learnings – evaluating response

Post-crisis evaluation is a review of a crisis response. It is not about evaluating front-line tactical/emergency response or clean-ups. It is about how crisis teams responded. The following items are some of the issues that need to be addressed in a post-crisis evaluation review:

1. A narrative of the actual event. What caused the event?
2. How was the response managed by the crisis management team?
3. How did the crisis response relate to governance of the business
4. Was the reputation and brand of the business affected?
5. What was the decision making process based on?
6. Were human and technical resources adequate?
7. Is the organisation still at threat from the problem?
8. What were the unintended consequences from the original incident?
9. Were there any barriers to communication (internally or externally)?
10. Were all stakeholders advised effectively?
11. Was there sufficient co-operation with government?
12. Were crisis plans, manuals and procedures useful?
13. Was human resources response effective?
14. Were there barriers to crisis response from senior management?
15. Were legal and commercial issues dealt with efficiently?
16. Was the spokesperson’s role effective?
17. Were message strategies effective
18. Was media managed effectively?
19. How was business continuity and recovery managed?
20. What is in place to prevent this crisis from happening again?

A post-evaluation needs to be carried out by either outside consultants or a senior management team and preferably not by the crisis management team. The process should be dedicated to continually improving crisis management response capability, decision making, plans and protocols and particularly leadership skills. It should also ensure the crisis management team has understood its roles and responsibilities.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Executive rehearsal of crisis plans

There are countless cupboards of costly crisis management, risk management, business continuity, emergency management, issues management and product recall plans that sit gathering dust on corporate shelves. These plans are simply no use unless the people using them are trained and tested. Crisis-prone organisations are exposed and vulnerable without a process that assures continual review and testing of plans.

It is not just organisations involved in oil, resources, transport or manufacturing who need executive training for crisis management. Organisations operating in hazardous industries invariably have and test crisis plans, but it is amazing how many businesses in the service sector such as banking and finance, legal and accounting have never tested a plan or a team.

A large corporate legal firm recently had cause to face its own internal crisis with the rapid departure of a number of senior partners following an issue of ethics. Countless media arrived in the plush foyer and the crisis lingered for many weeks. There may have been a crisis plan in place but very few of the senior management partners had ever practised their response to such a situation. Damage control took far too long and their client base was seriously affected by the loss of reputation.

The major problem faced by crisis management leaders in every organisation is the difficulty in getting team members together to train and practice. The most successful plans are those that make sure the team rehearses as a unit. Where the CEO makes himself available for the Head Office team training process, the organisation can be assured of a positive and committed result. Live leadership involvement is a great team builder.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Crisis management and the police

One of the most frequently asked questions of organisations participating in crisis management and recovery training is - "how do we work with the police"?

It is essential that police be informed in the event of a serious accident or incident, particularly if it relates to the death or injury of people. It is in fact a statutory requirement that police be contacted immediately following the identification of a critical incident.

The police will designate personnel to assist in the tactical response but they can also provide senior officers to work alongside an organisation to help coordinate the flow of information between an organisation and emergency services. In many countries this is mandatory.

The police must have a key role in informing next of kin of those dead, injured or missing. Company representatives should accompany the police in this process and planning for this is an important part of human resources preparedness for crisis response.

The police can also provide a well-oiled communications structure to support the delivery of messages to stakeholders in a crisis. Internationally, police forces have special Media Liaison Units that will provide interface guidelines in the process of announcing critical information to the public following a serious event.

In escalating crises related to terrorism, police will take command and can be relied on for high-level strategic advice for organisations that need clarity on response and control of their particular situation.

Incorporate police liaison details in your crisis plans.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Demise of crisis management planning in top corporations

BP's massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; the deaths of leading mining executives, all on one plane in Africa, and the resignation of a major retail CEO in the wake of sexual harassment claims - the crises keep coming. And the management of these critical events is under the microscope. What is the brain of these corporations doing to ensure crises will be managed?

BP continues to struggle with the crisis management of, and recovery from, one of the world's worst environmental spills. This is long after the global learnings that came from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and the devastating Piper Alpha explosion in the North Sea. The BP oil spill carries with it major safety concerns related to response capability, ongoing communication problems, particularly from the CEO, and an early loss of stakeholder trust from the general public to the US President. An extraordinary response from a company that in 1989 was at the forefront of international crisis management planning.

The deaths in a plane crash of the Sundance Resources mining executive Board in remote Africa is a tragic crisis. Debate continues regarding the gigantic risk of so many key personnel flying together on one aircraft. Not only a loss of life but a serious loss of intellectual capital and corporate leadership. This event occurring only months after the catastrophic Polish air crash that killed 96 VIP passengers, most of whom were part of the Polish Government, including the President. Both these disasters needed to have been mitigated against in pre-crisis planning.

Sexual harassment, another high-level threat to corporations, is at the centre of the shock resignation of retail giant, David Jones CEO, Mark McInnes. He acknowledged that he committed "serious errors of judgement". The resignation led to $81 million being wiped off the market value of David Jones. As The Australian newspaper reported: "The resignation and the reasons given are unprecedented in corporate Australia". A parallel to this is the recent top-profile resignation of the CEO and President of Penguin Canada, David Davidar, who quit his post and later admitted that the publisher had sacked him after a sexual harassment case was filed against him by a former female colleague.

High impact, low probability critical events are a reality, and high-performing corporations must be prepared to face these events with a proactive and well-rehearsed strategic crisis management response. This requires a continual review of best-practice crisis management planning and should be an essential ingredient of an organisation's corporate governance.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cutting crisis management chaos

Deciding on the structure and composition of a crisis team on the day of a crisis simply does not work. Effective performance during a crisis relies very much on team members' prior understanding of their roles and responsibilities in responding to an escalating event.

Organisations that know what to do, who is going to do it, and in what sequence, are more effective during a crisis. A prepared organisation can respond faster and better with reduced decision making time. Cooperation between team members enhances effectiveness and this experience through pre-training, discussion and planning will increase response.

A crisis team that is used to working together under clear leadership moves into their operational function with a more positive approach particularly in chaotic situations. Shared knowledge of the team organisation produces a capability far greater than the sum of individual members.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

CEO crisis manager

Good to see Qantas Chief Executive, Alan Joyce, extolling the virtues of crisis management in Business Review Weekly magazine. "Flexibility and adaptability is really key," says Alan Joyce, the diminutive, Irish-born Chief Executive of Qantas, without any hint of irony. "We have a fairly refined crisis management team and crisis management process, probably more so than many other companies." Joyce was talking about a broad range of threats including the volcano turmoil where Qantas lost $10 million during the threat to air travel. "It's what (my predecessor) Geoff Dixon calls the constant shock syndrome...we plan on a steady state and then we plan scenarios and risks around that. But the volcano would not have been on the risk register." (BRW May 6-12,2010 - Managing the Unmanageable)

There is determined growing recognition among CEOs that crisis management is part of day-to-day planning. The process, its respondents and its leaders need to have matured either in an arena of real crises or with the experience of test runs. Best practice is practice. CEOs and crisis teams need to practise together. Organisations never know when the worst case scenario can happen but they can be prepared to handle adversity and minimise the impact when it does.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

CEO crisis leadership

As we can see from current global crises, there is no hiding place for the CEO in a crisis. And when the big one hits, it is the CEO who will end up facing the music.

It is inevitable the CEO will be pursued for their views and opinions. What did they do? What did they say? Every stakeholder involved in the organisation knows that the company stands the best chance of surviving if the leadership is from the top and on top.

Ensuring the cultural approach to managing a crisis must have the imprimatur of the CEO. It is they who should proactively oversee the corporate crisis management strategy that will work in a crisis situation. However, the levels of unpreparedness, inexperience and defensive reactions that still exist in many organisations generally indicate that many lessons have not yet been learned.

To see the CEO walking the talk in crisis planning is a statement of strong leadership that will direct the organisation to the high ground when the worst case scenario happens.

In the end, the buck stops at the top. In rapid escalation, the sooner the CEO leads the agenda, the better.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Unpredictable crises 2010

The Financial Times has suggested that disaster management is a growth market, particularly related to unexpected events such as the tragic deaths and subsequent oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, the sovereign debt crisis in Greece and the ongoing volcanic ash closing down air space in Europe.

Having the resilience to control an unpredictable event is the role of crisis management and when emergency response systems can't cope, strategic crisis management needs to kick in to respond swiftly to reputational brand and governance issues. The simple questions I would ask any organisation are:

* what are the worst case scenarios that could hit your business?
* what is the most inconvenient time for this to happen?
* do you have a strategic plan to deal with it?
* who will lead your response?
* can you contact/involve your key stakeholders rapidly?
* where will you manage the response from?
* can you continue to run the rest of the business?
* what are your short and long term recovery goals?

Now is the time to plan to limit the effects of an escalating unforeseen event. With a strategic crisis plan you can.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Social media for crisis response

Major corporations and government are faced with the reality that frontline crisis communication is now being seriously influenced by social media. The use of Twitter, Facebook and blogs is a paramount tool in taking the high ground.

Treading the proven path of communicating with key stakeholders through the usual internal and external media continues to be a priority but it is essential to listen to and talk the language of crisis conversation on the web.

Don't wait to deal with social media until a crisis occurs. Get your social media strategy together before the worst case scenario so as to gain maximum social media optimisation. Be sure you have the language of conversation right too - social media needs to be delivered with open dialogue and the process linked to the most effective internet search engines. Social media requires careful monitoring so that the key issues related to the crisis are being identified and dealt with as they occur.

Remember - news editors, producers and journalists are watching the web to read conversations in every crisis. Social media has to be part of your response strategy.

Monday, April 26, 2010

List your crisis stakeholders early

In every crisis, stakeholder communication must start immediately in order to maintain effective control. It is an axiom of crisis management, if not business generally, that what you say is as important as what you do, and that you do what you say you will do.

How you communicate with stakeholders will have a direct bearing on the duration, intensity, and economic cost of the crisis.

List your key stakeholder groups. Get them up on the whiteboard. Some will be enemies and some will be friends, but in order to handle their needs and expectations, you must communicate with them fast.

Without being industry specific, key stakeholders will normally include:

* employees and next of kin (first and foremost)
* senior management and Board
* unions
* customers and suppliers
* financial analysts, bankers and shareholders
* insurance companies and legal representatives
* affected and interested third parties such as local community, academics,
environmentalists and special interest groups
* media including the web
* the general public

Identify your crisis stakeholders and confirm communication strategy for each early. Proactive organisations do this before a crisis hits to get ahead of the agenda.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mining crisis next-of-kin

It's rare for a US President to directly blame a company and government for a major crisis. President Obama has blamed the country's worst coal mining disaster in 40 years on the Massey Energy Company and government mismanagement. The explosion in West Virginia on 5 April killed 29 men and injured two. The President said: "Owners responsible for conditions in the Upper Big Branch mine should be held accountable for decisions they made and preventative measures they failed to take."

Only four years ago at Sago Mine, also in West Virginia, 12 miners died in another horrific mine accident. This event will long be remembered for the devastating media coverage where it was stated "12 Miners Found Alive" when in fact 12 miners were later declared as fatalities.

Common to both these disasters were the sad and tragic faces of family members searching for information and confirmation. A scene too often presented in these industry emergencies.

Ahead of any major emergency or crisis, a number of essential actions will prepare an organisation to communicate with employees and next-of-kin. They are:

* designate who is accountable for coordinating communication with families
* pre-arrange internal training to deliver bad news to families
* make provision for counselling rooms to manage enquiries from families
* establish detailed records of families' names, addresses and phone numbers
* arrange protection of families from the media and outside stakeholders
* establish guidelines on communication with contractors
* develop a message strategy for spokespersons to update information
* establish a dedicated family call centre and train telephonists

Organisations will be judged on how they treat people in a crisis. Effective communication is the key.

The crisis 'blame game'

The blame game is inevitable in crises and this is particularly evident related to the Royal Commission Inquiry into the Black Saturday February 7, 2009 Australian bushfires in the State of Victoria.

Blame for the warning system, for emergency preparedness, and leadership of coordinated responses has been levelled at the Chief Fire Officer of the Authority, and further blame is now being levelled at the then Police Commissioner, who held a senior Disaster Plan responsibility and has been questioned about her failure to perform her duty on the day. She is particularly criticised for "leaving her post" although she had delegated her role to take a break for dinner.

More than ever, crisis leaders are met with increased scrutiny from key stakeholders about their strategic thinking and their integrity of leadership. What is clear is the court of public opinion's perception of their leadership in crisis. And often that is shaped by the leaders' personal attributes and values and not their response process management. Too often some media will focus on a leader's lack of integrity and decisiveness which leads to serious negative perceptions of what otherwise was a job well done.

In the end, a leader's role in times of crisis is to communicate a vision and reassure stakeholders of what is happening and the direction of the response. Every crisis leader is on "centre stage" and under public scrutiny from the beginning to the end recovery.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Crisis prevention is not enough

In an ideal world, most crises can be prevented and there are many risk-based solutions in place to achieve this. Some crises can be prevented through better warning systems, improved safety standards, regular risk and threat analysis, strategic issues management, best practice emergency and security standards and efficient product recall.

But certainty seldom exists. Crises will erupt to disrupt and destabilise an organisation. Prevention is not the only cure, and one thing is for certain - a strong, tested crisis plan can control the chaos when it happens.

It takes years to build a successful organisation and only minutes to pull it apart. Containment is the key and with a crisis plan, you can.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Product recall crisis

Whether it's a food scare, a design defect, a health problem, a manufacturing error or product tampering, product recall is part of the manufacturing process. There are hundreds of thousands of product recalls worldwide every week and some of these can escalate to crisis.

One of the essential elements in every product problem is the ability of the manufacturer or maker to realise at what point the problem can escalate to crisis status. Is it just a safety check or minor issue, or could it develop into a serious event with the possibility of class action and a critical effect on brand and reputation?

Crisis teams need to work with issues managers, product development managers, marketing managers and product recall teams to determine threats. It is essential to run regular product recall and integrated crisis exercises to test early warnings, identify gaps and confirm roles and responsibilities to manage a product crisis sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Reality crisis simulations

Today, crisis simulation training needs to look and feel like the real thing so that the stress and the pressure of time is felt by participants. Importantly, crisis simulations need to test leadership - is the person in charge of the crisis response able to cope with the landscape of threats? Are they cool under pressure? Will they face urgent decisions and make the final call?

Henry Kissinger once said: "In a crisis, only the strongest strive for responsibility; the rest are intimidated by the knowledge that failure will demand a scapegoat".

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Celebrities - managing the unmanageable.

So many entertainment stars and sporting personalities are being positioned as requiring crisis management. In perspective, three immediate criteria define a crisis situation. The first is loss of life or people being critically injured, the second is major damage of assets, and the third is serious loss of reputation. While it can be argued that loss of reputation is a threat to star status, the real purpose of crisis management is to make qualitative decisions to take control of an escalating critical situation and to expedite recovery. Rescuing celebrities from their own bad behaviour is not crisis management, it is issues management.

Managers of high-profile people need to think about threats to their stars' status or image long before the worst-case situation occurs. Good issues management is getting ahead of the agenda by planning to avoid one or many eventualities. Let's keep crisis management out of show business.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Crisis first audience

Employees must be told of a crisis first and fast. Effective crisis management means communicating immediately with employees. They are an organisation's best ally. Rumour and innuendo can be controlled if messages about what has happened reach internal audiences rapidly. Not communicating with your people greatly devalues your message strategy to all stakeholders.

These days, social media can broadcast employees' opinions to a wider audience at high-speed. Controlling the agenda means telling employees early.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hockey World Cup terrorism alert

Major crisis management security is currently underway in New Delhi for the Hockey World Cup. Thousands of police and military guarding the stadium and key points throughout the city. This is being hailed as a precursor security event to the Commonwealth Games to be held here in October. Some commentators and participants suggest security is unprecedented. So it should be. It is only 16 months since terrorists attacked major tourist targets in Mumbai after murdering the police chief and two police officials. The view that terrorists tend to keep away from locations where there is heavy security was not relevant at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 and is not relevant now.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tsunami early warning?

The old adage of “why weren’t we told” hit the beaches in Australia last weekend. Following the 8.8 magnitude tragic earthquake in Chile on Saturday, surfers were warned about a possible tsunami affecting the Eastern seaboard. The warning system from the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre (JATWC) worked well but people didn’t listen. Crisis early warnings only work if people understand why. Bushfires have proven that.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Response from Sea World

In a world of “no comment” or late comment, it was impressive to see the response from Sea World in Florida, USA, following the awful death of their whale trainer, Dawn Brancheau. They were quick to take the high ground on the background behind the tragic event. Strong positioning under difficult circumstances and a spokesperson who immediately faced his public and delivered answers to critical questions.