Lessons From the BP Oil Spill

Eight ways to reconnect after a disaster.

August 05, 2010
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1. Practice full transparency and full disclosure.

Until a company makes the decision to lay all the cards on the table after a disaster—to be upfront about its decision-making process and solutions—the organization is stuck behind a roadblock, says Kuzmeski. It’s impossible to begin rebuilding relationships if you aren’t being honest and upfront about what has happened. As BP found out, a lack of transparency attracts closer scrutiny and suspicion.

“At different stages of the event, it has been revealed that BP wasn’t being completely truthful about the spill,” says Kuzmeski. “At one point, it wasn’t allowing the media to get close to the site. And it turns out the company had a higher-quality video feed much earlier than previously revealed. By not being fully transparent and disclosing what they knew, BP officials affected their believability. As it stands today, a lot of people are wondering if they can trust any communication the company puts out there.

“By not being fully transparent, the U.S. government has also missed an opportunity to get the public fully on board with it,” she adds. “People want to hear that the government is doing its part. They want to hear what the government is working on, and what the government plans to do to help the citizens of the Gulf Coast.”

2. Get out in front of the disaster.

There’s no better example of this than Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol scare. After several people died from taking cyanide-laced Extra-Strength Tylenol in 1982, Johnson & Johnson immediately accepted responsibility. The company immediately recalled all Tylenol products (even though it likely was an isolated incident) and developed a tamper-proof seal. It began showing the public it was doing everything in its power to protect the public and fix the problem.

“When you get in front of a problem, it doesn’t make the problem go away, but at least it shows people you’re doing something about it and that you care,” says Kuzmeski. “Caring is a key point of connection. Your public has to see that you care enough about them to forget your own company’s well-being for the moment and instead do what you can to restore their safety and their well-being. So much of it is perception.

“Because BP was slow to accept responsibility and show it cares about what the spill is doing to the Gulf Coast, I don’t think people perceive that the company cares much about them,” she adds. “And that’s something that can be very difficult to overcome when you’re trying to rebuild relationships with a public that feels it has been wronged.”

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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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