Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Crisis Management Training - A Solid ROI

I’ve recently been involved in furthering my education, something that I try to do at one level or another continuously.

Specifically, I am just winding up my participation in a Business Ethics class, which was finished with a round table discussion that we hosted, for industry professionals, on the recent announcement of the changes to our Provinces’ Motor Vehicle Act, to introduce tougher penalties to drinking drivers.

As I was participating in last nights’ discussion event, I found myself judging various comments based on training that I took over 15 years ago, on crisis management, with an emphasis on how to deal effectively with the media, which is what motivated me to write today.

I was fortunate enough to participate in this training as a member of the Executive Committee of what was then a Canadian Pacific Hotel, (now Fairmont Hotels), and even then I considered myself very fortunate to have been chosen for this training.

The crux of my training was this. After polite introductions, we were advised that we would be participating in a crisis event, at a fictitious Hotel. The crisis would unfold throughout the day, and we would be interviewed at various stages of the crisis, by real investigative journalists, brought in for the day, and then our interviews would be reviewed by the attendees, and critiqued for our benefit.

We were also warned that there were no “do overs”, which is to say, you could not be in the middle of an interview and advise that you would like to start again. This experience was to be as real as possible, and you had better get on your game face.

I should also mention that the other phase of the day’s training was focused on what you actually did to manage the crisis as it unfolded. What steps did you take to help guests, employees, and to protect the company, etc..

As promised, we were then advised that we were the General Manager of a 600 room Hotel, in a major downtown city, and the Hotel was on fire. The fire department and emergency services were on scene, as were members of the press. The Hotel was in the process of being evacuated, including the conference floor where a major political party convention was in full swing. Many people were unaccounted for, the scene looked quite chaotic as present, and the media wanted some answers.

As the day unfolded, the situation became much worse, employees talking to the media about shoddy fire drill practices, when they happened at all, a stairwell had been blocked and people had died trying to evacuate, a guest floor under renovation with the fire sprinklers turned off, and so on.

By the end of the day, which finished with a mock press conference at the conclusion of our fictitious crisis, we were all exhausted, and we honestly felt like we had just gone through this actual event, but we were unanimous in our evaluation of the day as being one of the most important days of our careers, and we were grateful for having been chosen to participate in this training exercise.

I can tell you, even today, that was still some of the most valuable training I ever took, and every Hotel company should invest in crisis management training. It is invaluable, and when priced against the potential of a mishandled crisis, or a botched interview, and the potentially negative ramifications of either, it is a bargain.

The foundation of what I learned that day has stayed with me, and been of assistance to me in my dealing with the media, on multiple occasions, in good times, and in the more challenging times, and whether provided for by your company, or not, I would encourage all senior leaders to seek out an opportunity to participate in a program as I did, or at least, to find some effective media training. When the time comes, and it will, you’ll be glad that you did.

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