The RCMP Responds: Are You Satisfied?
Over the course of the last week the RCMP Executive made an attempt to defend themselves against mounting criticism and questioning around the travesty in Moncton; there was “Setting the Record Straight” out of “J” Division (New Brunswick), “RCMP Say New Gear Is On Way” (Moncton Times and Transcript), a “broadcast” to individual RCMP mailboxes from a Deputy Commissioner, and the “RCMP Denies Force Not Properly Equipped With Guns, Armour” (Toronto Star). After reading these carefully crafted media pieces and releases, do you feel safer? Have your questions been answered? Are you impressed with the way RCMP Senior Executives have handled this matter? Can you point to someone who has shown real leadership?
Any reputation management professional will tell you that in today’s climate of accountability “doing good, is good business”. Whether a government (police) agency or a private corporation, taking responsibility for even a partial organizational failure is particularly laudable at a time when corporate executives and accountability seem like complete strangers. (I say all of this acknowledging the legal concerns of the RCMP in the Moncton matter. And on the other hand, it would be tough to say that Tylenol and Maple Leaf Foods were without similar concerns in their highly regarded responses to their own public relations nightmares).
Do you remember Michael McCain the CEO of Maple Leaf Foods? Do you recall the company’s 2008 crisis, when listeria was found in their production process and linked with serious illness and death? Mr. McCain’s response is considered to be textbook reputation management. His apology and accountability are thought to be on a plane with the best of reputation management, including Johnson & Johnson’s response to the Tylenol tampering case that killed seven people in the Chicago area in 1982. Mr. McCain put himself square in the middle of the crisis and took complete ownership of the tragedy. He conducted himself in a way that was consistent with the best of crisis and reputation management. (Where is your esteemed “leader”?)
How should a leader handle an organizational crisis? Of course the RCMP situation differs in some ways from the Tylenol and Maple Leaf Foods crises, but there must be some kind of a game plan that a leader can refer to when the organization fumbles the ball on his watch? Here’s a very simple one that is well regarded by crisis management experts:
“Step Up, ‘Fess Up, and Clean Up”
Twenty-first century crisis management is built on this one. (Yet this strategy has always baffled RCMP Exec’s – recall how “E” Division’s “bright lights” of the day handled the Tasering and death of Robert Dziekanski at YVR in 2007). During a crisis like the RCMP finds itself in, there is no doubt that a competent leader should own up to what happened and be as transparent as possible. Here’s a quote from an interesting study done at Stanford University:
“Executives who blame external, uncontrollable causes for problems may seem less trustworthy. If an executive takes responsibility for negative outcomes . . . the reader thinks, ‘Oh this company knows what it’s doing, they’re in control of it, they can change it’.”
So it seems that blaming external phenomena (e.g. “monsters”) can create the impression that the leader (and his senior executive) is unwilling to admit there is a problem (no matter how small), and/or he is unable to fix his own problems, or he is simply looking for a “scapegoat”. On the other hand, admitting to overall error or specific shortcomings (e.g. still “rolling out” new gear 9 years post Mayerthorpe, and 7 years post fatality inquiry) creates the impression that the organization has a handle on the problem and is more likely to recover because they recognize the problem and have accepted responsibility. Do you think Mr. Paulson and his senior executive have “stepped up” or do you think they are more concerned about their own legacy than your safety?
With regard to “fessing up” the typical organizational reaction is to “shut up”. Enter Michael McCain and Maple Leaf Foods; his response in the first few hours after learning that his products were causing sickness, was to accept accountability, apologize for the outcome, be as transparent as possible, and to be clear on an action plan. Doing all of those things earned Maple Leaf Foods the right to be heard in the future. A strategy of this nature may not be approved of by many who masquerade as reputation management experts; who are, of course, paralyzed by the thought of potential lawsuits that may come on the heels of any admission of culpability. Genuine contemporary experts however would suggest, that lawsuits are going to come anyway, and if you have been exonerated by the court of public opinion, this will go a long way to assisting you in a court of law. Do you think Mr. Paulson and his senior executive have done a good job of “fessing up”? (What’s that about “the higher you go, the more they know”?).
In the case of “cleaning up”, the moment the CFIA confirmed the presence of listeria monocytogenes in Maple Leaf meat products, Michael McCain immediately recalled the identified product lines and a press release was issued to that effect. Four days later, following more positive tests, he widened the recall. Then came August 23rd when a DNA linkage was established between some of the affected individuals and two Maple Leaf products. Mr. McCain began a recall of 191 products, closed a plant, embarked on a mass communication campaign, and made himself accessible to the media. He provided frequent and transparent updates. He defaulted to transparency. In the name of his family and the company, he put the situation and the current status of the crisis out for all to see that he was taking control and cleaning up the crisis. Do you think Mr. Paulson and his senior executive have provided any indication that they a) have anything to clean up, and b) they have a plan to do so?
Once again my objective is not to be unreasonably critical of the RCMP (executive); I want you to think, express yourself, and become an agent in creating your own future. My thesis here, as in most of my writing, is that Mr. Paulson (and his senior executive) has not shown leadership. It is my impression that he is more concerned about his own image and the “brand” of the RCMP than he is about your safety. Would you be more confident if he was “front and centre” on this matter, if he had instructed his executives across the country to adopt a “We don’t know, but we’ll find out” attitude, if he had accepted responsibility for at least some of this travesty, and had outlined a clear plan to get some answers?
Listen to MPPAC’s media spokesperson on this at http://mppac.ca/
Dr. Mike Webster, Registered Psychologist