Lessons From the BP Oil Spill

Eight ways to reconnect after a disaster.

August 05, 2010
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Since April, we’ve been glued to news of the Gulf Coast oil spill. While some of the recent headlines are more hopeful, anxiety and frustration continue. Much of our ire is aimed squarely at British Petroleum (BP), the company that owns the well. The oil company is buried deep in a disaster that will be difficult to overcome. And what makes the situation worse, says Maribeth Kuzmeski, is how BP has chosen to connect with the media and the public during the crisis—resorting to misleading information, poor communication, and neglect while dodging responsibility for the spill.

“The way BP has handled the oil spill should serve as the standard to avoid for any company facing such a disaster in the future,” says Kuzmeski, author of “The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life.”

“Obviously, it would have been best for the company to have prevented the spill, but once the damage was done, the company could have mitigated some of the backlash it received,” she says. In a disaster, you expect public opinion to be at its worst immediately after the event, she points out. With the BP spill, backlash continued to build because the company didn’t communicate effectively.

It’s not only BP’s image that has suffered, she adds. Poor communication also has negatively affected the public’s view of the government. “People are looking to the president for solutions,” says Kuzmeski. When the well is permanently capped and the cleanup progresses, both BP and the president “could be left with irreparable damage in terms of public opinion,” she says.

Obviously, few companies are likely to be involved in disasters of the magnitude of the BP oil spill—few have the capacity to wreak such immense physical and environmental destruction. But bad things can happen to any company—a financial scandal, a contaminated or faulty product, a high-profile lawsuit. What’s essential is how your organization reacts and connects with consumers.

Here are eight suggestions from Kuzmeski on how to mend relationships and immediately start reconnecting with consumers and the public after a disaster:

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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