So there you are, CEO of Johnson and Johnson in 1982, and life is pretty good. Your acetaminophen product, Tylenol, generates 19 percent of your company’s profits, and your golf game is shaping up now that you’ve corrected that slice.
But then somebody injects cyanide into a few capsules and suddenly your company leads every news segment, sales plunge, and your country-club pals are dumping their Tylenol down the toilet in the locker room.
Or you are a president enjoying a healthy economy, and then a pandemic strikes. Or you are the CEO of Chipotle watching your business boom when an E coli outbreak drives sales the opposite direction.
Shit, as they say, happens.
We live in a world where entropy reigns despite humankind’s puny attempts to assert order amidst the chaos. And while the professional emergencies that confront us might be minor by comparison with a cyanide-laced pain reliever crisis, in every career there are situations that require us to get on “emergency footing”. Everyone in those situations need to focus and rally.
In a recent news segment, I was introduced to these six principles of emergency management and communication from the CDC’s Crisis + Emergency Communication Response team, or CERC. From a presentation they developed, they shared these principles which – I believe – can help any business team that finds itself in a moment of crisis:
The response from Johnson and Johnson has become the textbook case on how to properly react to a crisis. The Chipotle case got off to a bad start due to an unfortunate joke the CEO made during an investor conference. From an article on corporate emergency examples:
The burrito company’s crisis management strategy has been a long and often criticized one. In the midst of the 2015 outbreaks, co-CEO Monty Moran spoke at an industry conference for investors saying:
“It’s been fueled by the sort of unusual and even unorthodox way the CDC has chosen to announce cases related to the original outbreak in the Northwest,” he said. And: “Because the media likes to write sensational headlines, you’ll probably see, you know, when somebody sneezes … ‘Ah, it’s E. coli from Chipotle’ for a little bit of time”.
While truthful, as journalists at Fortune pointed out, “this is not how you win back the world’s confidence.”
Chipotle was able to quickly right the ship, but other crises may not be as forgiving, as when Jack in the Box’s own E coli outbreak in 1993 killed four children. Even if the “crisis” is small by comparison, a production-impacting software bug discovered by multiple customers after a release, or an entire company having to suddenly work from home (and still hit their number) represent very real situations that demand a smart response.
Hopefully you won’t need to implement these principles, but chances are you will at some point. Keep these handy – maybe in a glass case that says “Break in the event of an emergency”.
Don’t forget the hammer.