Crisis Control

Whoa! What a day…

Yesterday was a day I will not easily forget. It started off with receiving a number of text messages from friends and colleagues saying that an email my company had sent out to all the contacts that I have accumulated over the last ten years (inviting people to participate in our annual Talent Barometer) had gone viral. Not the good kind of viral, no! The kind that floods peoples inboxes, as individuals who were replying to the email were by default replying to everybody else on the list – and that of course led to other people responding, sending out even more emails and this became a vicious cycle.

I hate it when situations like these occur. I hate it even more when I am the cause of it.

Of course in no time people were throwing insults left, right and center and something that started with so much good intent, trying to get people to share their opinion on the Pakistani talent market so we can translate that into insights and publish a free of cost research report, backfired in a tremendous way. This was about to destroy the reputation that my company and I have tried to build inch-by-inch over the last 5 years in only a matter of a few hours.

From my experience in dealing with a professional crisis (product recalls, safety incidents, labor unrest, etc.) the trick is to contain, engage, and prevent. First things first – you have to identify what went wrong and try to stop whatever is causing the crisis. In our case it was pulling the plug on the email server and ensuring that no more emails were going round and round in circles.

Then it is all about engaging the people that were affected. In our case, reactions varied from ‘please unsubscribe me’ to ‘this will have an impact on how I trust your company with their ability to handle information confidentially’. I have a very simple principle in these situations; apologize and live up to your actions. So within hours of the first incident I was writing individual apology emails to the people that were the most affected. Often people are afraid to apologize as it makes them look weak, however the most interesting thing happens when you do. People, not all, will start empathizing with you. As long as you acknowledge their anger and frustration, explain what went wrong and take responsibility – people will turn around and begin to understand. (From what I saw, you can turn around the most hardened and angry people).

After you have contained and engaged the most affected people it is of course all about ensuring that it never happens again. In our case, I made the mistake to agree to an alternative IT solution that gave us more flexibility and cost benefit, but was not proven nor tested. It was an error in judgment, I should have known better; there are no short cuts in life that are sustainable over time.

Over the next few weeks we will start engaging people again through our new solution. Rebuilding some of the confidence that has been lost and trusting that at the end people will understand that we did it with a positive intent and sometimes things just go wrong.

So to everybody that was inconvenienced by the events of yesterday, I would like to give my sincerest apologies!

As a final word I would like to thank my team who were awakened yesterday morning with a call to crisis. They responded outstandingly, they took it personally, took ownership and helped to resolve the situation. A big thank you to my EC team!

– Paul Keijzer

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5 thoughts on “Crisis Control

  1. A well-crafted post! I think in our environment, majority of times we look for shortcuts and safeguarding reputation is our least priority. Being a Business Continuity professional, I think in times of crises, the CEO should assume the role of a captain. There is no harm whatsoever to apologize and empathize with your clients (you did the right thing Paul!). I have seen executives shying away from such acts and prefer to remain outside the spotlight holding on to their beloved egos. The impacts obviously remain unhealthy both for the organization and the individual. Treating your business and clients like a money-machine really doesn’t work in the long run for sure.

    Interestingly, we never imagine having any sort of proactive contingency plans, which I think is essential for every company regardless of its size and complexity. To start with, having a Crisis Communications Plan is essential so that each individual knows their roles and responsibilities in handing such unwanted incidents.

    Keep writing Paul! 🙂

    • Thanks for the encouragement Sohail. You must know this better than others, only after a crisis occurs people start paying attention to Biz Continuity. And always too late.

  2. Right move at the right time. I second with your outlook on crisis and how to handle it.
    There is alot to learn from experiences of people like you, if only we reckon.

  3. Good! You are right that people are afraid to apologize and at times reluctant to take resposibility as well.

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