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Foot in Mouth

Optimize Blog - June 30, 2010 - 0 comments

Here at Zeitgeist up until now we’ve avoided commenting on the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and the trials and tribulations of BP’s attempts to recover oil from reserves right at the limits of our technological capabilities.
However, it is a major story and one of our observations is the seeming inability for BP to handle the giant’s corporate communications with any semblance of success. So far every time the CEO or Chairman has uttered any kind of response it has been an unmitigated disaster.
We have the Chairman referring to “the small people” and the CEO, Mr Hayward referring to the fact that he wants his life back and the spill wasn’t that much of an issue because “The Gulf of Mexico is a big ocean”. Mr Hayward also elicited the wrath of the US Congress by continuously attempting to avoid providing straight answers and frankly when under pressure has continually failed to meet even the basic standard of an officer of a company.
“BP’s handling of the spill from a crisis management perspective will go down in history as one of the great examples of how to make a situation worse by bad communications,” said Michael Gordon, of New York-based crisis PR firm Group Gordon Strategic Communications.
“It was a combination of a lack of transparency, a lack of straight talking and a lack of sensitivity to the victims. When you’re managing an environmental disaster of this magnitude you not only have to manage the problem but also manage all the stakeholders.”
Patrick Dunleavy, a professor of political science at the London School of Economics comments that “The company didn’t adequately gauge how much backlash there would be and how quickly it would be … that was a really bad piece of risk management”.
Whether the CEO and Chairman of BP remain or ultimately lose their jobs is yet to be determined but there is a clear lesson for those of us who hold prominent positions within organizations. Disasters of this scale thankfully don’t happen that often but smaller crises, and no less potentially damaging to smaller companies, happen with alarming frequency.
This begs the question “How ready are you to manage a crisis?”
As we all know, conceptually at least, the reasoning of “It won’t happen to me” doesn’t hold any water because clearly it happens to someone and they were thinking the same as you……..
Managing a crisis is one of the biggest leadership challenges and when the music stops, everyone both within the company and outside of the company, is looking at you. Don’t leave this to chance. Prepare for such situations and treat it like insurance – you hope you’ll never need to claim but it’s there just in case.
Ultimately there will be many, many lessons learned from this environmental disaster but already we’re learning that the management of a crisis can exacerbate the situation and deliver untold collateral damage to a company and its value.

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