Crisis management tips; Advice for Doan

Crisis management tips
One of the best speakers at the Interagency Resources Management Conference in Williamsburg, Va., last week was Rick Amme of Amme and Associates, a public relations firm that specializes in managing crises. Amme presented valuable information for any manager who has to deal with difficult situations.

Among his crisis response principles:
  • Fix the problem. People want to know when you learned about the problem and what you did about it.
  • Provide information to the media quickly.
  • Rehearse critical press interviews.
  • Don’t make matters worse.
  • Get over your issues. Don’t let them drag on.
  • Tell the truth.
  • Reassure people.
Advice for Doan
Of course, as Amme was talking, the controversy surrounding Lurita Doan, administrator of the General Services Administration, was the pink elephant sitting in the room.

Coincidentally, Federal Computer Week has been seeking comments on Doan’s situation from public relations experts in the federal information technology market. We promised the experts we wouldn’t identify them by name, and they agreed to offer their advice.

Here is one suggestion:
“She needs to change her behavior so she doesn’t do things for which she can be criticized or nailed to the cross.

“Second, she needs to tell the truth so she can regain her credibility. She is a very smart and strong woman who can stand up to the criticism. She should be direct, stick to message and tough it out.”

Another PR expert said:
“She is telegenic, articulate and smart. She should quit obfuscating and parsing terms and/or situations and lie low for a while. If the media heat continues, she’ll want to focus on GSA’s mission and all the things it is accomplishing under her leadership. She’ll also want to distance herself from the ‘I don’t remembers,’ because she’s so smart and no one buys it for a second.”

And a third expert said:
“As for Lurita Doan, what can you say? She claims not to remember anything! At this point, her best bet is to stop claiming she can’t remember anything. She should stop talking, or if she must talk, start making statements about how she is dedicated to ensuring those things do not happen moving forward. She should talk about putting into place a system with better checks and balances. But honestly, at this point, I think all of that is too late. Her image and character are shot.”

But here is perhaps the best and most practical advice:
“Restoring a reputation is not something that someone can do quickly or on his or her own. We would typically counsel clients in the same situation to take the following steps:

1. Acknowledge the issues.
Even if an apology is not appropriate or legally feasible, the leader must publicly acknowledge the issues and the impact on the organization’s reputation.

2. Demonstrate change. Once the issues are on the table, the leader must provide a clear, substantive and credible path to remediation.

3. Engage stakeholders. Leaders of an organization must also demonstrate support from internal staff and industry luminaries.

4. Get third-party validation. After a perceived breach of faith, it is impossible for the leader to say, ‘Trust me, this will work.’ As such, the leader must appeal to a credible, pre-eminent voice to validate and monitor progress. Validators could be a former leader, a panel of experts or an institute.

5. Generate results. At periodic intervals after the path toward change is announced, the leader or organization must show progress. They should have stakeholders and third parties verify the milestones. Leaders get only one chance to start over again, so if the first effort to drive change fails, this pathway probably won’t work again.”

Now there’s some good advice. poll: Feds as SIsHere are the responses from 167 people to the poll question: “Should agencies serve as their own systems integrators on modernization programs?”

Yes: 50.3 percent
No: 49.7 percent

Take the new poll: What has been the impact of the President’s Management Agenda on agency effectiveness?

About the Author

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