Jun 09 2009

You can’t cancel a crisis

If there is one thing that should be crystal clear to today’s C-suite, it’s that you can’t create a cover up without being smoked out.

I don’t need a Harvard study or a PhD to make my point. Enron, WorldCom, Martha Stewart, Tyco, Madoff and Bear Stearns, to name a few, have already done so.

The lesson from this – other than don’t cook the books – is that communication is powerful and permanent. The phone notes that implicated Martha Stewart, the shredded files of Arthur Andersen, the video of Dennis Kozlowski’s Sardinian party are communications that the guilty tried to take back, hide, ignore or deny. But there is no amount of privilege, fame, money or power that can keep you in total control.

I once held a highly coordinated press conference to announce a business deal between two companies. To the public and the media, everything went smoothly, but behind closed doors it was another story. Both companies wanted to cancel the press conference on the day of the event. One executive demanded another’s quotes be changed in the press release. Another threatened to lock up the event location a few hours before show time. Drama ensued at every turn.

Of course, none of these things happened. Why? Because they made decisions at a point where their power no longer held jurisdiction. CEOs must realize that there are stronger forces in the world than their executive orders. The media, bloggers, special interest groups, legislators and whistle blowers are powerful and mostly credible sources of information in our society. It’s not to say that executive orders don’t matter, but they must be thought of in a larger context than the company itself.

Faced with a situation that questions your decisions, the best option is to be truthful. If you ask me, the best thing that President Barack Obama has done in office was to admit his mistake in the handling of Tom Daschle’s Cabinet nomination.

This excerpt is taken from the FOX News story on the subject:

“I consider this a mistake on my part, one that I intend to fix and correct and make sure that we’re not screwing up again,” Obama said. “Ultimately I have to take responsibility for a process that resulted in us not having a (health and human services) secretary at a time when people need relief on their health care costs.

“So this is a mistake — probably not the first one I’m going to be making in this office, but what I’m absolutely committed to doing is fixing it,” he said.

What else can you say to the man? He admitted his wrong doing, promised to fix it and moved on.  Granted, President Obama may have learned the right moves by watching his predecessor being raked over the coals for the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ comment. Perhaps executives should take note of his honestly policy. You’ll find that the public is more forgiving and the media is less interested in dragging out continuing coverage when people tell the truth.

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