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Yahoo shows the importance of people in crisis management planning

May 8, 2012 by Jonathan Hemus

News that Yahoo’s CEO, Scott Thompson (photo), has stepped downfollowing accusations that his CV featured a fake computer science degree reinforces the importance of factoring people issues into crisis management planning.

Organisations often find it easy to produce crisis communication plans for external events such as accidents, fires, natural disasters, IT failure and even terrorist attacks. But “softer” issues affecting people – fraud, bullying, corruption, personal scandal and so on – are much less comfortable to consider.

Despite this, it’s essential that people-related issues – especially those related to senior management – are incorporated into reputational risk assessments. Some businesses feel squeamish about thinking the unthinkable, but failure to do so can leave them highly exposed if the worst should arise.

I’ve been working with a couple of clients recently who have overcome their unease with imagining despicable behaviour by senior management and as a result have increased their resilience to reputational risk. With the first one, we have scenario planned exactly how they would respond if its CEO was accused of corrupt practices. With the second we have conducted a crisis simulation in which a board director is arrested by the Serious Fraud Office.

Both organisations have strong reputations for integrity and ethical behaviour, so why would they put themselves through this pain? The answer is that they understand that the impact of a people-related crisis can be far more damaging than a crisis event which strikes from outside. Especially when integrity lies at the heart of their brands.

Yahoo faces a tough challenge as it manages the sudden departure of its CEO and the transition to a new leader. Businesses which want to minimise the impact of such an event should spend time planning for management behaviour that they can scarcely contemplate.

Far from being a sign of weakness or even guilt, it demonstrates professionalism and means that the future actions of one rogue individual are much less likely to damage the entire business and everyone else who works for it.

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