ETHICS AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT

Posted in Crisis Management, Ethics and Crisis Management, ETHICS FROM THE TOP DOWN, guidelines for ethical standards, including ethics as part of your corporate culture, problem employees, Setting ethical standards on September 12th, 2012 by mnayor

 On September 8, 2012 The New York Times ran a front page story about Marcone, a company that may well be the largest authorized dealer of appliance parts in theU.S.  it’s been around since 1932.The reason for its front page notoriety is due to one of its senior vice presidents, Carlos Garcia, buying, essentially smuggling, and reselling large quantities of a banned refrigerant for appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners. Garcia imported the gas, HCF-22 which damages the ozone layer, without the necessary approvals, thereby violating international treaties andU.S.law. The substance has been prohibited in new appliances since 2010. In June, Garcia was sentenced to 13 months in jail.

 

Faced with a tempting or risky issue, a powerful person, a powerful company, a powerful country is most likely still to believe that there is a good chance of getting away with something. Lie low and time will make the issue recede into history. Put a band aid on and no one will dare to pierce your impenetrable shell. This is what happened to Wal-Mart in April of this year when its Mexican subsidiary was exposed as having engaged in  pervasive bribery as a normal course of business. What would have happened if Wal-Mart had entertained a genuine independent internal investigation when it had the opportunity, and made those findings known to the Justice Department and to the State ofMexico? There would have been a much smaller story. Wal-Mart would at least have been accused of being honorable. Its reputation for integrity would have been burnished. It would have paid a price but perhaps not as steep a price as it will now pay.

Why don’t people get it? Because there is a gambler in all of us, even when the odds are poor. Is there a chance we can get away with something? Let’s give it a try. What do we have to lose? Ask Richard Nixon. Ask Bill Clinton. Ask all those who have tried to wheedle their way out of messes only to get caught. Ah but then again there is always that other guy, the guy who got away with it. We should follow him. He’s a smart guy. He knew the angles. If he could do it, we can too. Right now things are calm. Let’s not rock the boat. But in the long run the straight-shooter almost always wins.

What’s the lesson for CEO’s of organizations? It’s simple really. Every organization has  a “culture”. An integral part of that culture should be a requirement for high ethical standards, communicated from the top down. Transmitting the idea of winning at any cost will most likely ensure that some manager or employee down the chain will misconstrue the message and take ridiculous liberties in order to be noticed. Turning a blind eye to actions that are suspect bears the same message, even if it takes a little longer to filter down. Excessive emphasis on the bottom line can put extraordinary pressure on executives and managers to wring blood out of a stone and look for routes that will pay huge rewards, oftentimes the risk be damned. Johnson & Johnson has certainly paid a huge price to its reputation under the leadership of William Weldon, who retired as CEO just a few months ago. Under his guidance J&J’s wonderful standing in the eyes of the public has plummeted. The number of recalls, dirty facilities and end-runs around regulations over the last several years have contributed to the erosion of its sterling reputation of putting the consumer first as it did in the Tylenol scare of 1982.

 

What can a CEO do? First establish a no tolerance rule for non-ethical behavior. Anyone whose conduct exceeds the bounds of propriety is gone. Second, very careful employment screening is a must. Thirdly, establish ethical standards. Easier said than done? Perhaps but the effort should be made. Obviously if certain conduct is illegal, then it clearly has no place in the organization. beyond that if conduct is egregious enough to create the valid claim of negligence or breach of contract it should not be tolerated. Finally, if conduct would offend any one class or more of your stakeholders then it should be carefully considered. No organization should take an action that has the potential for angering its customers or clients, its investors, suppliers, employees, government officials, the public at large or the media. Of course, angering your competition is a different story, unless it angers the public at large and boomerangs.

 

No organization can protect itself against the errant employee who may jeopardize its reputation, legal standing or success. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the CEO and the board of any entity establish the rules of conduct by which it wishes to be known and respected.

 

 

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PRE-CRISIS MANAGEMENT

Posted in Anticipation, CRISIS MANAGEMENT STARTS WITH PLANNING, Ethics and Crisis Management, PRE-CRISIS PLANNING on September 12th, 2012 by mnayor

 The term crisis management itself is enough to send executives and managers scurrying back to their desks, burying their heads in papers so they can be overlooked. If one is tapped to head a pre-crisis management team, it’s like being the designated fire marshal for your floor in the building. If you are appointed to manage a post-crisis event, you may have everything to lose and nothing to gain. After all you may be in the cross hairs of public opinion and totally distracted from your regular role in sales, marketing, advertising, or finance.

 

But crisis management is a vital function. It should be recognized as such by the CEO of any organization and communicated down the chain. Any one event, whether due to totally external factors or self created, a crisis can set an organization back years or deep six it, if not handled properly. Handling that one event may well far outweigh for example the importance of the market roll-out of a new product.

 

Pre-crisis management is preventative in nature. It helps you avoid a crisis. It also prepares you for handling a crisis in the event one occurs.

 

Post crisis management implements the plan you have prepared in anticipation of a crisis occurring.

 

So, what is a crisis. It can be any event or circumstance that has the potential for negatively impacting your organization whether it is damage to reputation, operations, markets, or products. Tainted, shoddy or defective products. High profile litigation. A government investigation. The resignation of a key officer. An environmental or natural disaster. n internet failure. Illegal employee activities. Computer data loss. A walkout or strike. The list goes on

 

The spill-over effect is the negative impact the event will have on your stakeholders – your customers, your suppliers, investors, employees, government officials, the public at large, the media. Major crises happen all the time. We have seen several  recently and they are not pretty.PennStateof course, Wal-Mart’s Mexican subsidiary bribery story, Netflix’s pricing fiasco, Olympus Corporation’s cooked books, J&J’s poor handling of product recalls. These stories and many more underscore the necessity for pre-crisis management.

 

Of course we are not all Wal-Mart or Johnson & Johnson.  But the owner of the local retail toy store has as much to gain from crisis management as the big boys. Bad press, damaged relationships, investor confidence, employee morale, supplier cut-offs, civil and criminal liability – none of these things happen only to giant institutions.

 

How to start. It’s easy. Brainstorm. No one can anticipate an exact crisis but we can all speculate as to what our organizations may be vulnerable. List these vulnerabilities and what you can do about them. Example: you are a farmer and need to protect yourself against weather-related events. Insurance coverage, smudge pots, protective coverings etc. may be your answer. Example: your supplier of critical components has had problems. Begin identifying and ordering from alternative sources of supply, vertical integration, overseas sources etc. may be your answer. Example: you produce or distribute products for human consumption. Check your sources for utmost reliability, third party liability insurance, random quality checks.

 

Other potential solutions to problems: alternate transportation sources, duplicate bookkeeping and records backup, key man insurance, family succession planning. All these actions, if circumstances warrant, can be extremely helpful in avoiding you being caught unaware.

 

Next, assemble a team, a core group made up of the CEO, your PR people and legal counsel. Identify those managers or employees who have the best in-depth knowledge and are capable of attacking a problem in their respective areas. Identify those managers and employees who are capable of succinctly explaining issues to top management and/or to the public. Assemble this team and assign roles. Ensure that you have an organized document management system in place that preserves data and information and be ready for fact finding. Develop a communications strategy which includes assigning responsibility for communication content and approval, and assigning the role of spokesperson. Recognize the need for different messages for different stakeholders. develop responses for different media, from press releases, on air responses and social media.

 

Don’t think you can handle everything in-house. Your attorney, your public relations consultant or those who you rely on for sage advice will come in handy. Outsiders have a broader perspective than you may have and can assist to anticipate problems, develop a plan, assist in investigations and document management, assess any legal exposure and help prepare public statements.

 

One observation I personally believe to be of utmost importance.  If you look at some of the highly publicized crises of the day, many stem from lax ethics. Enhancing the bottom line has many times replaced the goal of doing the right thing, often at the expense of customers. Increasing short term profits may make a hero out of someone today but the actions taken to accomplish this may have severe repercussions to an organization tomorrow. A CEO can pressure everyone to redouble their efforts to increase revenues and profits and let employees find their own path or a CEO can communicate the need for high ethical standards which in the long run, will bear more fruit and allow everyone to come to work the next day. Crisis management especially crisis planning is a crucial effort to manage those events that have slipped by you. The worst and the best that can happen is that you will never have to implement your plan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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