Warren Buffett said recently on CNBC that the rules of crisis management are get it right, get it fast, get it out, and get it over. For the first time ever, I’m going to push back on Mr. Buffett’s advice.
The problem is that “get it right” often conflicts with “get it fast”. Three Mile Island got it fast and wrong; there had been a core meltdown and they said they’d be back online soon. The British police embarrassingly got it fast and wrong when they said emphatically they’d shot a terrorist at Stockwell tube; he turned out to be an innocent Brazilian on his way to work. They got it wrong again when Ian Tomlinson died at the G20 summit. The police said he never came into contact with them; this innocent bystander was shown later on video being hit by police.
So the urge to “get it out” and “get it over” can make the crisis live on embarrassingly forever as a stain on the reputation, as it did in all these cases.
“Get it right” should always be what matters most. So I’d add to Mr. Buffett’s advice that if getting it right means a crisis-hit body pauses for thought while the heat’s on, so be it.
The media may be hacked off at first if the people at the centre of the storm beg for forbearance whilst they work out exactly what’s happened. But that phase will pass and then what’s remembered is that no-one got fobbed off with lies. What’s more, if a culture of quick response gets too rooted, organisations develop a line – a self-serving line – which can’t then be shifted in favour of the truth.