Crisis Management: 3rd Party Oversight – Helpful in Crisis Investigations: Crisis planning
One of the best crisis resolution tools is third party review – having outside experts or mediators provide solutions and/or corrections.
This approach is NOT for you if you love a good public fight and the exhilaration of battling in the news media. It is NOT for you if you prefer dragging out the argument, winning at any cost, and paying legal bills. It IS for you if you treasure public trust and respect. It IS for you if you believe there must be a better way to end a quarrel than to out-shout and out-maneuver your opponent.
First consider the Dale Earnhardt case – with which I was not involved. The NASCAR icon died after his car hit the wall in a race. The Orlando Sentinel, with a history of investigative stories on NASCAR safety, said it wanted to examine – not publish – autopsy photos to learn whether Earnhardt’s death had safety implications for drivers. Fearing inevitable media publication, outraged widow Teresa Earnhardt – with support of thousands of fans and eventually Florida’s governor and legislature – sued the Sentinel to prevent news media access to the photographs. With a 1st amendment/privacy clash looming, a judge ordered both sides to resolve the matter with the assistance of a mediator. They did. Details later.
Now consider a client case in which an individual, who was supposed to be in the care of the institution involved was accidentally killed. The incident generated public ill will and nasty press reports throughout the Southeast. The media were in full-coverage fury – rightfully so. Now, years later, following the assistance of outside experts, the institution is operating normally with its reputation restored. More later.
So why is it so important for outsiders to help resolve disputes? Why does 3rd party review matter?
For the answer just ask yourself how you would fathom a crisis or confrontation of which you had no personal knowledge. Whom would you believe? If the antagonists made equally outrageous claims about the other, how do you know who’s right? In a battle of sound bites which quote would persuade you and why?
I suspect that without independent corroboration of the truth, you would ultimately choose sides based on your own prejudices. In a dispute between a lone individual and a big company, without independent corroboration of facts, most of us would align ourselves with the little guy, the individual. If homeowners or residents challenge government or other institutions, here too I believe most of us would side with the private citizens because that is how most of us see ourselves. With that same bias we are also unlikely to trust a company or institution that investigates itself. The process might be wholly objective, but without independent verification or oversight, why would we believe it?
Enter 3rd party review. While mediators or outside experts might be no more competent than internal resources to solve a problem, they can provide objectivity or the appearance of it. A 3rd party provides the perception of a fair process and most people trust a fair process.
Therefore, whether in the public eye or within your own company, should you have the misfortune of becoming embroiled in a dispute, don’t fall into the trap of trying to out-shout your opponents or announce self-correction, call in a 3rd party. Your efforts are more likely to be perceived as fair and objective, and your solution more willingly accepted. Importantly, 3rd parties may provide solutions you would have overlooked.
So what happened in the Earnhardt autopsy photo case? Each side agreed to let the mediator select an independent medical expert to review the photos and issue a report on what caused Dale Earnhardt’s fatal head injuries. After that, the photos are to be sealed. (While their specific dispute seems resolved, the free press-privacy issues involved are so substantial that I believe they will ripple through legal, political, and media halls for months.)
And what about the accidental death in the institution? Management called in experts from across the country to review almost every phase of operation. State and local agencies participated too. All were part of a multi-phase plan based substantially on intense 3rd party review. We announced it to the news media so that citizens would know that everything reasonable was being done to prevent another death. Trust was slowly and surely restored.