When I was growing up in Indiana, one of my friends and neighbors was a boy named Billy. We were both around ten years old at the time. One day Billy was playing with matches in his bedroom and set the curtains on fire. He tried putting the fire out, but its flames quickly spread. Billy was so overwhelmed by the situation that he walked out of his room, closed the door and started watching TV in the living room.
For a few minutes, he didn’t have to deal with the awful reality of what he had done, and he was able to go about life as usual. However, it wasn’t long before the entire house was engulfed in flames. Fortunately he and his family escaped, but the house burned to the ground.
When I tell that story, people usually are amazed at such irresponsible behavior, and rightfully so. Yet, I find that many companies with intelligent, well-educated leaders often take the same approach to dealing with a crisis in their organization.
Rather than face reality, they try to ignore the crisis or put a lid on it.
More often than not, the crisis grows and becomes consuming, and in the process devours valuable time and resources. Sometimes the organization’s reputation is severely harmed, and out of the ashes investigations suddenly appear. The pity is that engaging the crisis in its early stages would have made it more manageable and less damaging.
As Henry Kissinger put it, “A problem ignored is a crisis invited.”
Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.