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How to Avoid Becoming the Crisis – We’ve Got Enough to Manage

It doesn’t take much to create a firestorm.  One tweet dashed off in haste can lead to job ousters, plunging stock prices, and reputational damage that can take years to overcome.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  As a company, you can’t control what others say about you, but you can control what you […]

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It doesn’t take much to create a firestorm.  One tweet dashed off in haste can lead to job ousters, plunging stock prices, and reputational damage that can take years to overcome.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  As a company, you can’t control what others say about you, but you can control what you say about yourself and your stakeholders.  This is never more important than on social media.

Here are a few things to consider.

Don’t Tweet and Work at the Same Time

Remember the Oscar announcement several years ago naming the wrong movie for best picture? The PwC partner in the wings who was responsible for handing off the envelope, with the company’s carefully tabulated results, tweeted a photo of Best Actress trophy-holder Emma Stone just before the mix-up. Did his social media glam shot distract enough for him to take his eye off the ball?

Whether that was the case or not, tweeting, just like texting or emailing, can be just as dangerous in the workplace as when driving.  Multi-tasking takes your mind off the job at hand. Research at Stanford University has even shown that multitasking lowers cognitive function, causing us to be less productive than if we focus on one responsibility at a time. Makes sense.  Imagine getting ready to throw your spear at a charging lion, then stopping to tweet, “About to kill the lion #dontgeteaten.” This would not end well.

Be Fully Present

Reading emails while working on a project and talking on the phone is equivalent to having a conversation with someone and looking everywhere else around the room. It’s disrespectful. And chances are you don’t really listen.  Active listening is essential for effective communication.

Now that so many meetings are virtual, I find myself scrolling through my social feeds or sorting through a stack of papers on my desk when I should be listening more carefully.  It’s easy to turn off the camera and tune out, but it’s also not fair to the others in the meeting.  The reality is that we miss out on important content because our attention is bifurcated. Yes, we catch snippets of conversation, but they may be taken out of context. Then when asked a direct question, we don’t know how to answer because we have lost the thread. Either you have to ‘fess up that you didn’t listen or risk looking daft. As hard as it may be sometimes, keep your camera on and stay focused.

Avoid Complacency

Arrogance is often at the root of situations gone awry.  In the case of the Oscar debacle, the accounting firm’s partner in charge was asked during an interview with The Huffington Post just a few days before the Hollywood event about what happens if someone gets the wrong envelope. His response: “We would make sure that the correct person was known very quickly.  Whether that entails stopping the show, us walking onstage, us signaling to the stage manager—that’s really a game-time decision, if something like that were to happen. Again, it’s so unlikely.”

The operative phrase here is that he thought it was so unlikely that he and his colleague weren’t mentally prepared. They took longer than they should have to follow their own protocols.  You have to guard against the complacency and arrogance that can set in when we have been at a task for a while and think we know what we’re doing.  Take off the blinders. Make sure you see what’s coming.

When we do crisis planning, we tell people to imagine the worst possible things that could happen.  It’s not enough to plan for them.  You must make sure that people are prepared to act.  That is why hospitals and emergency responders do drills so that when panic and shock set in, they can still act.

Step Up – Fast!

When something bad happens, act immediately—if possible—to acknowledge the error and fix it.  On Oscars night, his film might have lost the most coveted prize, but producer Jordan Horowitz won big. “La La Land” acceptance speeches had gone on for more than two minutes–a lifetime in TV time–while people scurried about behind them. The PwC partners did not step up to clear the fog. Instead, Horowitz did, striding up, strides to the mic, and said, “I’m sorry, no. There’s a mistake. ‘Moonlight,’ you guys won the best picture.”  And he followed it with, “I’m going to be really proud to hand this to my friends from ‘Moonlight.’” It was gracious. It was authentic. It had to be painful, but Horowitz proved himself a winner regardless of who held the gold-plated statue.

In the end, the Oscars go on. PwC still has the contract with the Oscars. But the two partners involved no longer work on that account and the company has revamped its procedures. Let’s not forget that something as simple as a tweet or basic as our own complacency can create the kind of havoc that doesn’t have to happen.

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