Business Growth & Strategy

Supermarkets, Maslow, Extreme Sports (Part 3)

This post serves as Part 3 of a piece that attempts to make the case that the same practices we use to avoid costly crisis situations can also be employed to achieve organizational excellence.  Here is Part 1 and Part 2, in case you missed them.  The model I propose is as follows:

Crisis Management Play-To-Win Model


As leaders and communicators, we realize that empowerment is fundamental to responding to crisis.  It’s the understanding that even if the company makes a mistake, when it responds and communicates decisively and promptly on behalf of those affected; it will survive damage to the brand.  In fact, a strong response will underscore and enhance the brand, and even strengthen its relationship with key audiences.

To prove this point, try this exercise with a group.  Ask them to identify the one trait that separates their best friend in the world from every other friend or acquaintance in their lives, and make a list for the group to see.  You’ll get answers such as: open, honest, trustworthy, there when I need them, etc.  Depending on the size of the group, you may get a list of 15-20 traits.  Ask them to look at the traits, and make two important observations:

1) You’ll never see the word “perfect” on the list.  No one expects it even from their best friend.  It should bring a sigh of relief to companies who are deathly afraid of admitting they made a mistake for fear it will forever tarnish their reputation.

2) The listed traits represent what people do expect from the people and the companies they deal with.  The more of these traits a company exhibits, particularly in times of crisis, the stronger the relationship with its audience.

Taking care of the victims and communicating clearly to your target audiences in a timely manner is the essence of empowerment.   Most crisis management plans do an excellent job of covering these two areas for myriad crisis situations.


Effectiveness, as defined in this model, starts with defense and moves to offense – from avoiding crisis to setting the stage for turning a weakness into a strength.  A typical process for trying to avoid certain crisis situations would be to:

–Identify vulnerabilities

–Establish priorities

–Identify problem areas that define each vulnerability

–Establish measurable objectives

–Develop action plans

–Provide for ongoing training/improvement

One restaurant chain, seeking to identify vulnerabilities for its crisis plan, stated that among other issues, racial discrimination toward customers was a major potential problem and should be at the top of the priority list.  The group identified what needed to be addressed to help avoid the occurrence of such incidents.  The senior people in the room agreed on objectives, developed action plans, and devised training programs for all current and new employees at every level.

Fortunately, it didn’t stop there, or where one could argue most crisis management protocols come to a screeching halt.  After more than a year, senior management discovered that hidden inside this vulnerability was a true competitive weapon.  It was no longer an issue of managing a program aimed at avoiding incidents of discrimination.  It entered the next phase, moving from “avoid a crisis” to “advance the brand.”   It evolved into how it could leverage diversity in a way that improved employee satisfaction, customer loyalty, top-line sales, etc.  The goals of the organization needed to be reset.  The restaurant realized it was time to play offense.


This is the play to win category, broken into two phases – It’s about improving your program and bringing it to a level that not only separates a company from its competitors in a way that delivers true ROI, but also rises to the level of excellence that may be compared to any other organization in the world, regardless of  industry.

Along with changing the mindset about diversity, as was the case with the restaurant chain, specific strategies had to be developed to actually take advantage of diversity within the organization.  Senior management of the restaurant chain began an aggressive campaign to be more inclusive, seeking the expertise and opinions of employees in the areas of product development, customer service, human resources, cause marketing, and a host of other areas.  Leveraging diversity brought about better decisions and resulted in fewer mistakes.  The quantitative results could be seen in reduced turnover, lower expenses, increased customer traffic, and stronger margins.

When it comes to creating a world class advantage across industry lines, it not only further leverages the advantages the company has worked so hard to build, but also engenders a tremendous feeling of employee pride and affords it the ability to attract the world’s top talent.

A Word About Perfection

Of course, excellence doesn’t guarantee perfection.   Even if a company achieves world class distinction in a particular area, it’s not a guarantee there won’t be problems.  It doesn’t ensure against an errant employee taking action that would result in a very damaging, highly public crisis.

Commitment to excellence does, however, put the company in an exponentially better posture to handle the crisis.  The company will be better positioned not only as it exhibits the most admired traits covered in our empowerment exercise, but also by its industry leading commitment to quality control, customer service, transparency, diversity, or whatever the issue may be.   It’s about action, not just words.  It’s about the empowerment that comes with having dozens of programs or training initiatives in place versus a policy statement on the back pages of the company handbook.  It’s an advantage that will be helpful both in the court of public opinion as well as a court of law.

Let’s Play to Win

Leaders and communicators alike can make a positive long-term impact on their business by developing and implementing crisis management programs.  Not the ones designed only to successfully handle, communicate, or avoid a crisis, but the ones that contribute to the positive development of the company brand.  Doing so may help you avoid the predicament of our supermarket company and provide you with the organizational agility of a world-class extreme sports athlete.

Category : Business Growth & Strategy

Topics :  ,

About the Author: Leo Bottary

Leo J. Bottary is an adjunct professor for two of Seton Hall University's graduate level programs in strategic communication and leadership.  Leo has enjoyed a 25-year career counseling leaders in the areas of strategic comm…

Learn More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *