How would you respond?
I arrived home tonight and the conversation with my wife turned to the lack of port-a-potties at a local builder’s construction sites. I know what you’re thinking: “Really?! That’s the best you can do for conversation?” Her next question to me reveals the reason: “You’re a crisis communication guy, what would you do?”
It’s definitely a crisis.
The local news ran a port-a-potty investigation (or lack-there-of) after being tipped off by an employee. Sure enough, the reporter and videographer found plenty of people to talk anonymously about the situation. They also found plenty of evidence that crews were finding alternatives to the lack of on-site facilities. Yeah, makes you go yuck.
So, to answer my wife’s question: I would have put the plastic portable bathrooms on the construction sites at the very beginning. I know, that’s an easy-way-out for the arm chair quarterback.
Let’s dive into the anatomy of a crisis response.
Here’s text transcribed from the conversation between the reporter and builder:
Reporter: “The amount of toilets you had significantly went up from May 4 to May 6. Would you say that on May 4 you were in error and on May 6, after talking with OSHA, you corrected those errors?”
Builder: “If there’s a problem, we address it and take care of it.”
Reporter: “So are you saying there was a problem?”
Builder: “When OSHA brought it to our attention they said they wanted more – with the amount of workers that there are today – we want this many toilets; and of course, we overkill.”
Clarity is not the first word that comes to mind when I read the statements. Clarity and transparency are crucial when working through any crisis.
There are three simple rules to dealing with a crisis.
First, admit to it. Come on. The builder was caught red handed. No potties one day, a TV investigation and OSHA investigation and the potties appear. Not exactly a coincidence.
Second, explain what is being done now to remedy the situation. Here’s what the builder should have said: “No excuses. We made a mistake. There are now port-a-potties at every build site.”
Third, be clear about what you’re doing to be sure the situation doesn’t happen again. Be specific. Stop with the generalized statements that mean nothing to the TV viewer. What does “…we overkill,” mean?
How about: “We have developed daily on-site reviews that every foreman completes first thing in the day. First thing on the checklist is to be sure port-a-potties are present, clean and ready for the day.”
All that said, I still opt for my first statement: Do the right thing, first.
But, here’s the clincher: The TV station took a bottle of yellow liquid they found in the crawl space of a recently finished house to a lab for testing. Yes, it was urine. And, yes, it tested positive for marijuana. Next crisis, please.
Tags: crisis communication