Slow Dancing in a Burning Room

blogpic_laurenCompany cultures and best practices are usually developed with good intentions. The culture of an organization typically stems from those who found and lead the company to the people that comprise it. Leaders hire people who exemplify skills and qualities that they themselves possess. They look for those who value the company’s mission, are motivated to help the company achieve its goals and who exemplify like-minded attitudes.

Sometimes companies hire people who turn out not to be the right fit after all, sometimes they hire people whose attitudes  change and put them at odds with the company culture, and every once in a while the hire people who masked flaws to get their position.

These people can be potential public relations disasters, like a grenade—pull one tiny pin and all hades breaks loose. And when that grenade goes off, what happens to the company? The business’s reputation is hurt, people retaliate, the media scrutinizes and the public becomes wary.

That being said, it is important for companies to be observant of the employees that comprise the business. Are they communicating effectively and appropriately with the people the company serves? Do any of their actions seem out of the ordinary? Has their attitude or overall demeanor seemed to have changed?

Giving staff members an employee handbook is great and all, but it’s important for employers to continue to communicate what the company’s goals are and how they expect to achieve them–whether it’s through actions, words or sales. Effectively communicating what is expected of employees’ behavior and attitude also helps to reinforce the company culture. Communication is also important for employee morale. Give positive feedback, reminders and incentives to staff when they demonstrate their commitment to helping the business succeed.

I have seen many companies that fell short of being observant, communicating and instilling morale into employees. Remember when employees of Dominos sullied pizzas that were delivered to customers and filmed the entire absurdity so they could share it on YouTube? That was a disaster Domino’s weathered surprisingly well, but one that required a massive restructuring of the company, its product and its brand—a costly endeavor that paid off in the end.

Recently, a 3-year-old with a scarred face was asked to leave the premises of a KFC because she was disrupting other customers. In Cincinnati, a family recently filed a lawsuit against a senior care home claiming that an employee assaulted their 68-year-old family member who resided there. Another story highlights a drunken cop who was fired after driving an undercover car into a ditch.

These are real circumstances and situations where staff did not say the right thing, made inappropriate decisions and acted against company standards, yet their actions are seen as a reflection of the entire business nonetheless.

These stories in which the company receives negative press are a public relations nightmare. Once something ugly is unleashed about a company, it can feel—as expressed by the title of a John Mayer song—like you are slow dancing in a burning room as you watch the media, the public and lawyers tear your company apart. So be observant, communicate, instill morale and be in tune to the goings on in your business. Being human though, we sometimes miss signs and grenades still explode. In preparation of these types of events, I recommend having a crisis management plan in place.

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