Avoid crises by being aware that times constantly change

Many years ago I took a media training class in Portland, Oregon presented by veteran journalist and communications consultant Paul Hanson. The wise Paul explained that one cause of a corporate communications crisis is that “times change”. Paul explained that behavior on the part of a senior executive that was acceptable in the past might not be acceptable today, and that can lead to a reputation crisis.

One only needs to look at the recent news coming out of NetflixNike, Intel and ABC Television to realize the accuracy of Paul’s comments. Nike and Intel have had to announce the departure of some senior male executives, due to reports of inappropriate workplace behavior with female employees.

As we all know, ABC Television had to shut down production of a highly successful show after its star, Roseanne Barr, sent out a racist tweet (the network has since decided to reboot the show minus Roseanne). And now Netflix has had to fire a senior exec because of his racist comment.

These highly public firings would be unheard of years ago, even though this type of behavior has existed for decades. For a great reminder of how bad treatment of women in the workplace used to be, take a look at past episodes of the “Mad Men” tv series. I’ve started watching the show recently (okay, so I’m a few years behind). The show’s depiction of male chauvinism and racism in the office is startling, disturbing and yet has a strong ring of truth to it.

Yes, times change, and so do society’s expectations of what is acceptable behavior in corporate America. How can you help your organization reduce the risk of this type of a reputation crisis? I have a few suggestions:

  1. Suggest that your HR Manager attend your next senior leadership meeting to discuss your organization’s current workplace policies in regards to harassment and diversity/inclusion. Strange as it might seem, some of your execs might not be aware of them all. Ask if the group would benefit from further training on these matters.
  2. Learn from others’ mistakes. Give a presentation to your organization’s senior leaders about the recent events at Netflix, Nike, Intel and ABC Television. They serve as cautionary tales. Explain the possible reputational risks that social media represents and what can happen when, like Roseanne, you tweet before you think.
  3. Explain to your senior leaders that times, do indeed, constantly change. Thanks to the news media and social media, they need to be aware we all now live in a fishbowl and that news can travel around the globe in an instant. Most of their actions at work — and even in their neighborhood bar — are open to scrutiny by the entire world. They need to ask themselves if their behavior could have a negative impact on others and, if so, they need to take a different course of action.
  4. If you find yourself working at an organization that hasn’t yet realized times have changed and its corporate culture includes harassment and/or racism, you have two choices: work from within to change that culture, or change your own situation and find a job elsewhere as soon as possible.
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