Crisis Management: A Violent Attack on Company Property – Case Study: Crisis response
The client said a security guard shot and killed a former employee attacking another worker – could I help? I grabbed my laptop and drove toward corporate headquarters trying to anticipate the unexpected with this case unfolding in a distant big city with big media. Such unfortunate events often turn bad; so imagine our relief to learn everything was under control. Though the gunfire came before dawn at this scene 3000 miles away, a senior executive in town took the initiative to go to the site at first alarm to respond and plan. He took care of employees, foresaw possible fallout, and drafted media messages. He blanketed the incident with personal attention. That left practically nothing for us at corporate to do but say “good job, keep us advised,” hang up and let out a collective sigh.
Could your on-site executives similarly quiet an emergency in far-flung offices? Have they anticipated crises, learned reassuring philosophies for responding, and put response mechanisms in place? Importantly, could they do it without your input in an emergency? Think about that as you read these specific steps that my client’s on-scene executive took before and after the tragic event.
Protect customers & staff in advance – Because the facility involved sits in a relatively high-crime area, he had already protected customers and employees with cameras monitoring and armed guards patrolling 24/7. Good thing. One of those very guards broke up the fight between the present and former workers. And since the instigator was attacking his victim with a weapon, the responding guard’s own bullet may have saved the victim’s life.
Take care of employees after the incident – When the executive arrived at the shooting location he strengthened security, listened to workers’ concerns, reassured them they would be protected, and offered professional counseling. (The security guard needed TLC too. He personally knew those who fought, and, therefore, sadly, the man he fatally wounded.)
Line up public relations – You may know how to run a business, but representing yourself publicly – especially when trouble is breaking around you – takes expertise. The executive had an ongoing relationship with a well-regarded PR firm that he notified of the shooting. Although they were available, he chose to proceed on his own since speed was essential and the time was 5:30 am.
Get media training – You cannot predict when your reputation will be on the line, so the executive had earlier media trained himself and other key individuals. That empowered him to know what to say and do following this confrontation. Importantly, in a step that many companies would not have taken, he had also media trained the manager of the outlet where the fight unfolded. That skill could have become significant. Here’s why….
Designate a spokesperson – Since the incident occurred in a minority community where the outlet manager himself was a resident, the manager was designated media spokesman. He would have been more persuasive than the senior executive who was white. While he was never needed as a spokesman, his training would have enabled him to reassure the public through the press and answer tough questions.
Prepare messages – The PR-savvy executive had the presence of mind to draft comments for reporters who might arrive. He put them in a news release ready to distribute. His remarks were thoughtful, and I hardly could have written better. (We did help him brainstorm answers to a few possible nasty questions.)
Standby to respond – There was no public welfare justification for rounding up the reporters and inviting them over to talk about a fatal shooting on company property. Nevertheless, the executive and his spokesperson were prepared for reporters who might learn of the clash and want a quote. (Incidentally, the time to notify reporters en masse comes when you have a safety, moral, legal, or business obligation to report an incident. Otherwise, sit tight and respond to specific journalistic inquiries that arise. One tactical exception would come if you were convinced that most people would learn of your situation in bits and pieces. Then it might be preferable to alert all media simultaneously, take your lumps, announce corrections, and get it over with.)
In conclusion, in this situation the executive on the spot made our jobs easy. Again, are you and your colleagues similarly prepared?