Sep 1, 2008

Standing in the eye of the storm

Last week, I was discussing the Maple Leaf situation with some of my colleagues. Many of them disagreed with the approach taken by Maple Leaf to handle the current situation. Their perspective was that it was better to send a PR representative instead of the president. The reasoning was as follows: if things get worse, who do you send to the front lines then?

I disagree: Maple Leaf did the right thing and I wish more companies would follow their lead. When your company is facing a critical issue, one that could potentially spell the end, you don't send a mouthpiece to do the dirty work: you do it yourself. And you do it often.

Sending a representative for such important issues gives the following message: This isn't important enough for the president to be involved. For Pete's sake, people are dying here! If there is any time to send your president to face the storm, this is it!

This weekend, Maple Leaf put another full ad in the paper where president McCain (wow, that's a funny thing to say in September 2008) explained what steps are being taken to resolve the problem. Once again, he is reassuring their customers that all precautions are being taken fix the current problem and to prevent something like this from happening again.

Mr. McCain has done a lot of things right during the crisis:
  • he apologized and admitted guilt;
  • he has not tried to lay blame on anyone but himself and his company. Specifically, he hasn't tried to blame the current inspection process in Canada;
  • he has taken precautions beyond the minimal requirements to help resolve the issue;
  • he has communicated often to keep people aware of what is going on, and he is explaining and describing the progress and process.
Many companies can learn from Maple Leaf's stance: when things go wrong, if you are in a leadership position then you need to maintain that position throughout difficult times. You can't just hide and hope it goes away; you can't stop talking and expect people around you to fill in the blanks. You need to take responsibility, keep communication channels open, and take concrete steps to resolve the issue.

This works in business when dealing with clients or when dealing with employees. And by the way, it also works at home with your loved ones!

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