My definition of a crisis is a people-stopping, show-stopping, product-stopping, reputationally redefining event that creates victims and/or explosive visibility. The operative word in this definition is the word victims. You can blow things up, burn things down, damage property and even create a lot of visible activity. But so long as you neither hurt, kill nor further endanger people, animals or living systems, the situation may be bad from a budget standpoint, but it is really not a crisis. It takes victims to make a crisis a crisis.
What is the most powerful response strategy to bring a crisis under control and to conclusion? While it generally requires some time to actually understand what is going on because all crises happen explosively, you can immediately implement a strategic five-step first response. I refer to this approach as The Golden Hour Strategy because the intention of this response approach is to launch all five steps within the first 60-120 minutes of the crisis incident, whatever the crisis happens to be.
There are four guiding principles that underlay this approach.
- Speed beats smart in crisis response every time.
- Silence is the most toxic strategy a perpetrator can adopt.
- Stalling and delays in responding are unacceptable, unexplainable, and permanently taint the quality of your response.
- Bad news always ripens badly; things will always get worse before they get better.
The goal of the 5-Step Golden Hour approach is to take the actions you can take as immediately as possible, provide useful information to victims, survivors, the community and others affected directly or indirectly, and actually are the most important things you can do in the early going of a crisis situation.
- Stop the production of victims. Continuous victim production is what drives the media coverage, the public interest, the emotionalization, the commentary and criticism from 1000 different sources focused on your reputation destruction. There are three kinds of victims: people, animals and living systems. Whatever it is that is damaging, injuring or killing these victims, Job One is to stop this from happening. Whatever you do in response, if you fail to visibly, productively, and seriously work to stop the production of victims, everything else becomes secondary.
- Manage the victim dimension. This is what leaders and senior managers should be doing rather than hanging around and second-guessing the command center and responders. Managing victims, to be effective, has to be a top management responsibility. It’s only top management who can handle the questions that victims and the survivors are asking, as well as authorize a range of palliative and restorative activities that can resolve the problems victims are and will be having. Leaders have four responsibilities in crisis management, including:
- Asserting the moral authority expected of ethical leadership and ethical organizations.
- Taking responsibility for care of the victims.
- Setting the appropriate tone for the organizational response, management behavior and the language that helps the organization behave compassionately and helpfully.
- Committing random acts of leadership at every level. Leaders acting like leaders has a significant impact during urgent situations.
- Calm and settle employees down. Communicating directly and frequently with employees, key stakeholders, and those who are directly affected by the circumstances of the crisis first. It’s usually done by the release of brief statements, frequently in the early going and less frequently as the crisis begins to be resolved.
- Notify those indirectly affected. These might be business partners, organizations that work closely with you, perhaps even share your reputation. These are people, organizations and activities that have a problem now because you are having a problem in your own backyard. This includes those who regulate, those who license, those who oversee, and those who collaborate.
- Manage the self-appointed and the self-anointed. This is the news media, the new media, those who opt in on their own, the critics, the bellyachers, the backbench bickerers, and the bloviators.
This strategy management needs to help all responders focus on what matters most and first. Far too many response plans have only legacy media public relations-driven tactics. Crisis response is a management responsibility driven by a simple, sensible, constructive, positive, and clearly achievable strategy. The strategy needs to be productive, capable of being managed and led successfully by leaders and managers. Now, go back and reread five strategy steps one more time.
The Golden Hour Metaphor (Side bar to the main story)
The first hour or two of crisis situations are often referred to as the Golden Hour or hours. The phrase comes from military medicine at the close of World War II, and during the Korean conflict. Military medical studies indicated that the single most prevalent cause of death for wounded soldiers was blood loss, the failure to get these individuals into serious life-saving medical treatment quickly after being wounded. They were bleeding to death in the Jeeps driving them to the hospitals located in rear areas of the battlefield.
The helicopter, which was brought into wider military use following World War II, was the perfect vehicle to get wounded soldiers quickly off the battlefield. But one more critical component was needed. Surgical facilities had to be as close as possible to the battle lines to reduce even further the risks and damage associated with transporting the wounded to urgent care.
The U.S. Army came up with the mobile hospital concept, the “Mobile Army Surgical Hospital,” or M.A.S.H. as they became widely known, just like the television show. These mobile facilities were located right on the battle line and moved with the progress of the battle.
Here’s the point, 96% of wounded soldiers who arrived alive at a M.A.S.H., regardless of the severity of their injuries, left the M.A.S.H. alive.
To me, this is the perfect metaphor when combined with following the Grand Crisis Response Strategy to address what management has to be ready to accomplish in those first 60 to 120 dangerous, frightening and chaotic minutes of a crisis.
About the Author
James (Jim) E. Lukaszewski (Loo-ka-SHEV-skee) is one of America’s most visible corporate go-to people for senior executives when there is trouble in the room or on the horizon. As America’s Crisis Guru®, Lukaszewski is known for his ability to help executives look at problems from a variety of sensible, constructive and principled perspectives. He has spent his career counseling leaders of all types who face challenging situations that often involve conflict, controversy, community action or activist opposition. He is known for taking a business approach rather than traditional PR strategies by teaching clients to take highly focused, ethically appropriate action. He is a consummate storyteller.
Photo Credit: Bigstock
Great post Chantal!!!!!! Sharing with my community!
I’m thinking of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. How do you think they handled the crisis in the Golden Hour? Thanks for the thought-provoking post!
Thank you for your question. Someday, I hope perhaps a quarter century from now, someone can produce an objective timeline of the actions taken by British Petroleum throughout the circumstance they faced. My assessment at the time and in the interim has been the fundamental direction of the company from the beginning was to solve the problems in the order in which they occurred. The first, of course, being to stop the production of victims – which meant turning off the leaking well. That took more than 100 days, but BP accomplished this despite the protests and interference of five state governments, the federal government and the ineptitude of some federal agencies.
The second task of resolving issues was to manage the victim dimension. Essentially, British Petroleum hired thousands of people to stand on the shore and wait for the oil to come and deflect it, defend it, or contain it. They began relatively quickly paying boat operating fees, house payments, car payments, and other bills that were accumulating for those who had operated fishing vessels in that area of the Gulf. They also begin subsidizing states for a variety of their costs and, as you recall, establish this extraordinary 30 billion dollar advanced damage payment fund. An extraordinary and important first in victim compensation.
As you may recall, the plaintiff’s attorneys went nuts about this because, under the procedures established, lawyers were not permitted and individual citizens could constantly come into the established local offices, jot their information down on a slip of paper, and more likely than not, leave with a check in their hand.
From the start, British Petroleum was also making available dashboards showing various data being accumulated as the process of response and recovery continued. My understanding is that many of these dashboards are still operating, but are part of the British Petroleum archive for its websites. But again, it’s simply more fun to be critical and give public officials, including the President of the United States, a platform on which to talk, but of course, none of them could really help.
The bottom line, Silvia, is that in catastrophic situations like the British Petroleum circumstance, the Golden Hour is kind of like “Groundhog Day” – it keeps repeating itself constantly as new collateral problems and issues arise.
What would be helpful to know is, because the media focused so much on the squabbling between owners of the well and their responsibilities, there was no public sense of the company’s on-going and relentless work toward remediating the situation as it was occurring.
The Public Relations profession is always happy to chime in and be critical of organizations and their behaviors when it seems safe to do so. And it certainly seems safe in this case since there were hundreds, perhaps even many times that number, of Public Relations people chiming in to criticize without much fundamental knowledge. The same thing happened during Katrina, which was a much more poorly managed problem, mostly by government.
So, my hope is that in some point in time there will be enough time that has passed and someone interested enough in this extraordinary disaster story, to begin to really look at it out of the emotion of the current time and present day and help us all with an objective assessment of how the company actually performed.
Our own profession made so much out of the company president’s statement that he, “wanted [his] life back,” upon which his firing was blamed. But the reality is, and history shows, that in situations of this nature, the CEO on whose watch the situation occurs is generally fired or removed at some point. It tends to reduce criticism and the company gets a second chance with someone else in charge.
The fundamental reality is that all crises are crises because they happen explosively and must be remediated incrementally, over time. All those complaints about British Petroleum and other “perpetrators” not acting fast enough simply reveals that the person commenting has virtually no crisis experience. Had they had some, they would recognize immediately that acting promptly is to do what exactly? Since what also makes a crisis a crisis is that it takes a while to figure out what’s actually going on and what the options for actions happen to be.
It would be instructive to all of us if such a history of this event could be objectively constructed and be operationally and historically accurate.
Judging by the number of wells and other kinds of holes we have punched into the surface of the earth, this is likely to be only the first time some like this has occurred.
Thanks again for your question. I hope my response is helpful.