Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sigg's Bottle Full of Troubled Water Pt. 4

The final phase of a crisis is Resolution. It will be hard to talk about the resolution for Sigg's water bottle crisis since resolution for the company is a long way off.

I've written about the other three phases of a crisis and you can read parts 1-3 of the series if you want to learn about the Warning Phase, Acute Phase and Chronic Phase.

The most important part about resolution is that Sigg doesn't get to determine when the crisis is resolved. Its customers will. That's because a company's reputation is owned by its customers. My good friend and crisis communicator Bob Roemer makes that point in his book, When the Balloon Goes Up. He's exactly right on this point.

Think of Exxon and the Valdez oil spill. That spill happened more than 20 years ago. The most recent news story about the spill I could find was from September 24, 2009... less than a week ago as of this writing. It was a story in the Alaska Journal of Commerce about workers filing claims for medical injuries suffered while they cleaned up the spill.

There's even a new play about the spill that opened in Anchorage last week. In October, it will go on the road and play in Valdez. The author of the play told KTUU Television that he was surprised by how deeply people in Alaska felt about the spill:
"I didn't realize 20 years after that I would have audiences in Anchorage for whom the spill was still a very raw wound."
-Dick Reichman, author "The Big One"
There are times you know when the crisis will be resolved. I was on the team of communicators who worked the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. The accident on re-entry claimed the lives of seven astronauts and put the future of the entire US human spaceflight program in jeopardy.

About a month into the crisis, I had a conversation with an executive United Space Alliance (United Space Alliance is the Shuttle's prime contractor and a client). No one was sleeping more than a few hours a night and people were desperate for normalcy. The executive said that he felt that things were "getting back to normal." I told him that things wouldn't get back to normal for a long time. People may work shorter days (12-16 hrs vs 16-20 hrs) but in the public's mind, the Columbia accident would only be resolved when the next Shuttle landed safely.

When you get to the Resolution Phase, how can you succeed in moving beyond the crisis?

1) Remember the past
The way to get past a crisis is not to forget it happened, but to remember what happened and what you've learned. Your customers or the public will allow you to move on, but only when they know you aren't trying to rewrite history.

2) Honor your people
All crises are human events, and it is important to honor the people impacted by it and those who have helped the organization recover. There were thousands of people working to get the Space Shuttle flying again. Everyone I worked with understood that Return to Flight was as much about flying again as it was honoring Rick, Willie, David, KC, Michael, Laurel and Ilan. In fact, the crew patch for the Return to Flight mission included a silhouette of the shuttle and seven stars to remember the fallen astronauts.

3) Demonstrate humility
People understand that humans are fallible. Your customers will forgive you, but not if you're arrogant or in denial. The ability to be in business depends on your customer's or the public's willingness to let that happen.

The resolution of the Columbia Disaster happened more than two-and-a-half-years after the accident when the Space Shuttle Discovery landed after its Return to Flight mission. We were lucky, because few crises resolve themselves so precisely or with so few words. In this case, four.

"Houston, Discovery. Wheels stop."

It's hard to say when Sigg will reach resolution in this crisis. But I'm pretty sure it will be measured in years, not words.

Bill Salvin

1 comment:

  1. As I read the phases of the crisis, it reminds me that the same principles should be kept in mind in ALL relationships.