Thursday, April 29, 2010

When Death Is the Crisis

Operational and Communication Guidelines

One of the most difficult challenges leaders and their communicators face is what to do, what to say, how to behave, and what decisions to make when someone is killed. This problem does arise, all too frequently. Here are some useful guidelines for both operators and communicators:

1. The bigger the market, the less a single death seems to matter unless:

  • The death is spectacular.
  • The death reflects a pattern of malpractice, malfeasance, omission, negligence, or cover up.
2. Lukaszewski’s First Law of Adversity and Crisis Survival is to recognize that neither the government, the new media or news media, politicians, regulators, critics, nor your enemies have the power to defeat you. Defeat is almost always caused by uninformed or distracted bosses, insider leaks (from management or leadership, or especially from attorneys), well meaning friends and peers, or relatives.

3. Managing the victims and their survivors is 95 percent of your success. Anything less than a full throated communication and operational effort leaves the perpetrator vulnerable. Victim management is a long-term scenario. It can go well beyond settlement or even the end of litigation.

4. If you want to affect public opinion effectively, you have to influence employee opinion effectively, first. External communication strategies only work when there is a base in place that understands, supports, advocates, or remains neutral.

5. There is a pattern for successfully obtaining forgiveness.

6. There is a pattern for making your own problems worse.

7. There is a pattern to the power victims will have over you.

8. Focus on promptly settling these matters as aggressively, compassionately, and positively as possible.

9. Delay, stalling, timidity, and hesitation are the ingredients of failure. Silence is toxic to the perpetrator.

10. Avoid:

  • Speaking for others
  • Disparaging or discrediting
  • All negative words and language
  • Metaphors, paraphrases, or analogies
  • Creating new critics or enemies
  • Using old information to justify or forgive today's actions
  • Relying on corporate or legal assumptions rather than the realities victims and their survivors/families believe they are actually facing.
  • Taking any of this personally (stay at altitude)
  • Testosterosis
  • Whining
11. Be compassionate, extremely empathetic, open, responsive, transparent, truthful, candid, and engaging. Get to a place where you could consider apologizing.

12. Answer all the questions. For every question you skip, someone makes up an answer that you are going to wind up eating and owning.

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Blogger J.D. said...

Good post, Jim.

One thing to acknowledge about your point #4 is that internal and external communications is practically simultaneous today. Especially so when there's a crisis.

January 17, 2010 at 10:44 PM  
Blogger Jim Conway said...

I just read your blog posting on When Death is the Crisis. Jim, I want to express my personal thanks for your writing on this topic. As an executive leader, I have had the privilege of serving a healthcare organization, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, in the aftermath of the preventable death of Betsy Lehman in 1994. Over the last 15 years I have worked to help others to draw courage from each other when they are in similar situations and learned from them.

Today leaders and their organizations still struggle with the effective and respectful management of these clinical crises. Unnecessary suffering by patients, families, organizations, and communities remains. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement is placing a spotlight on this topic and using a variety of vehicles to advance practice.

I have found your writings most helpful, highly resonant with my and our experience, cite them in our work, and thank you for all you are doing to help others draw courage from your example.

If you have a chance to look at where we are going, I'd love any thoughts you have.

Thanks, Jim Conway, Senior Fellow, IHI

February 1, 2010 at 6:06 PM  
Blogger Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA said...

An excellent post, Jim, and very close to my discussion this past Tuesday evening with my Crisis Communication Management class at Curry College. This truly is an area where the public relations professional and all others involved in the process must be sensitive to a whole host of concerns as well as perceptions. Thank you for validating what I've been "preaching"

Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, Assistant Professor of Communication, Curry College, Milton, MA

April 30, 2010 at 8:53 AM  

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