The story just keeps getting uglier and uglier.
There are so many issues that could give rise to rage in the trial of Jerry Sandusky, former Penn State football coach. Sandusky is accused of sexually assaulting a number of children under the noses of Penn State officials and employees. The accused crimes were despicable enough. But now trial testimony has revealed a new layer of ugly: the indifference of the people who knew, and did nothing about it.
As awful as the reality of that may be, it is a stark parallel to what happens in crisis escalation when we refuse to see the warning signs and do something about it. The devastation could be a textbook case study for Blind Spots, an excellent book written by Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel. The book dissects the reasons why we don’t do what we know is right. It should be a must read for all PR and crisis professionals.
The saga at Penn State can be a learning experience for higher ed institutions when it comes to crisis response. Here are four basic lessons we can learn about watching for a potential crisis.
1. Have an organizational culture of diligence. First off, have the foresight to know that a crisis can happen to you at any time, and if you fail to plan you will be planning to fail. Not having a crisis warning system is like taking an ocean liner to sea without a map, a destination, or a crew.
2. Have a social media early warning system in place. Are you listening? It’s the first step in any crisis plan. I’ve written extensively about setting up effective listening systems in online media. Here is a synopsis of tools and budgets and here is a list of conversations you should be listening to. Also, the chapter on listening in my e-book covers this in great depth.
3. Have a triage response plan in place. Not every negative mention in social media constitutes a crisis. However, if you’ve accomplished number one above, you’ll have a plan that outlines what you will respond to and how you will respond. It’s called social media triage and you can learn the basics of how to set one up here.
4. Know where your organizational weaknesses and blind spots are. The first step in addressing this lesson is a full blown SWOT analysis (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) where the “W” and “T” are emphasized. Too many organizations like to look at their strengths and opportunities. You better be well schooled in your weaknesses and threats for crisis planning.
Unlike the traditional tool that many use, this needs to include employees as well--from the president's office down. After you have a good plan to implement the findings, a regular evaluation of your progress needs to be done, and mid-course corrections taken.
Sometimes the biggest lessons from a crisis are what you failed to do when you saw it coming.