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Poor crisis management knocks England out of World Cup?

May 17, 2010 Jonathan Hemus

England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup lies in tatters following Lord Triesman’s taped comments and subsequent resignation as chairman of the FA and bid team.  Indeed I find it hard not to agree with the commentator who said that the FA would “find it difficult to arrange a small canapé in a very large brewery”.  But what does this episode teach us about crisis management more generally?

1) Internally generated crises are often the most damaging

It’s hard to blame a business if it is struck by a tornado, terrorist or criminal act – it can be viewed as the victim of a crisis rather than the perpetrator.  That’s not to say that reputational damage cannot ensue:  if the organisation’s response to the incident is slow, inadequate or confused it may still suffer harm to its reputation.  But the job of reputation protection and recovery is even harder if the crisis is caused by the organisation or one of its senior managers.  Fraud, corruption or even bungled site closures all fall into this category.  The fact that the England bid team’s chairman caused his own crisis makes it that much harder to manage.

2) Don’t ignore the human factor in risk assessment

Professional, prudent organisations conduct a reputational risk assessment as part of their crisis planning.  But too many ignore the human element of risk, preferring to focus on technical and operational matters.  The latter are easier to fix and more comfortable to countenance.  Unfortunately, any crisis planning which ignores or underplays the human factor leaves the organisation in question with significant areas of vulnerability.

3) Build reputation capital beforehand

Having a strong reputation beforehand helps an organisation to rise out of a crisis.  This is certainly true if the professionalism of its response to the crisis mirrors its reputation before the incident.  When reputation capital is in short supply – or even in overdraft – the damage can be terminal.  I fear that this is the case with England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup.

4) Some organisations never learn

Everyone makes mistakes: but the definition of a fool is someone who fails to learn from them.  Organisations that suffer a crisis but review what happened, identify the learnings and act on them make themselves more resilient to future incidents.  The FA has experienced more than its fair share of crises, so it should be better prepared than almost any other organisation to prevent and manage future incidents.  Sadly, this seems not to be the case.

I was one year old when England last hosted the World Cup.  I will be 53 in 2018 and was hoping to see the event in this country before I draw my pension.  Another crisis management bungle by the FA means that this hope now appears to be somewhat forlorn.

Jonathan Hemus

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