Lessons From the BP Oil Spill

Eight ways to reconnect after a disaster.

August 05, 2010
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3. Step up and take responsibility.

An important part of reconnecting after a disaster is accepting responsibility. Johnson & Johnson’s quick acceptance of responsibility is one reason the company was able to recover so handily after the Tylenol scare, says Kuzmeski. Unfortunately, in the case of the BP spill, the company has only reluctantly taken responsibility for what happened.

“Especially during the early days of the spill, there was a lot of finger-pointing between the companies involved in the spill,” she says. “No one wanted to say it was their fault. BP should have recognized that no matter whose fault it was it was going to come down to BP to fix it. BP should have taken responsibility from the get-go and said, ‘There was an accident. It’s horrible. We apologize for our role in this disaster, and we’re committed to doing everything we can to fix it as quickly as possible.’

“The government too has seemed to try to deflect responsibility for its role,” she adds. “It was almost two months before the president openly acknowledged that the mismanagement of the Minerals Management Service played at least some role in the events leading up to the rig explosion and the spill. Until someone takes responsibility for the disaster, the public doesn’t feel there’s anyone fully in charge of fixing the problem.”

4. Remember that quantity and quality of communication count.

In a crisis, quality of communication is important, but so is quantity. Any company facing a disaster must stay in front of the public and keep them constantly informed. In the case of the oil spill, the U.S. government too needs to be steadfast in its efforts to stay in front of the people—after all, the spill stands to damage the livelihoods of U.S. citizens in addition to the long-lasting effects it will have on the environment.

“When there’s a lack of sufficient communication, the result is anger,” says Kuzmeski. “And when you’re dealing with a disaster, anger is no good. The anger causes a major roadblock and makes it difficult to connect. Even if you eventually get it right, it takes a long time for that anger to subside.” 

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