Lessons From the BP Oil Spill

Eight ways to reconnect after a disaster.

August 05, 2010
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7. Couple your communication with action.

You can provide people with the best communication possible, but if you don’t also back up that communication with action, you won’t get anywhere.

“This point might be a bigger struggle for the government than BP,” says Kuzmeski. “Obama’s talking about how angry he is isn’t enough.” Anger must be coupled with action, she says. The announcement that the president negotiated a $20 billion payout from BP helped. You can’t be all show and no go, she adds. You have to have clear communication followed by activity.

“Johnson & Johnson serves as another good example here,” adds Kuzmeski. “After the Tylenol scare, it communicated to the public that it was taking responsibility for what happened. Then it recalled Tylenol products even though it was a huge cost to the company.”

8. Make the public part of the process.

To connect with people, involve them in the process, she says. When your company is dealing with a disaster, assess who you should collaborate with, who can help you, and how they can help. This shows people you’re working toward solutions, and they become a little army on your side.

“When I consult with companies, I make sure all the decision makers and managers are involved in what’s going on,” says Kuzmeski. “I want everyone in the room together collaborating, because when someone is left out and new initiatives are implemented, they feel like they’re being given directives. But if they feel like they’ve been made a part of the process, they make sure they’re part of the solution.

“The bottom line is BP took a terrible situation, and, via poor communication and mismanagement, made it even worse,” says Kuzmeski. “It’s now much more than an oil spill. It’s about the way people have been treated. It’s about the fact that many people feel they’ve been victimized even further by the way the disaster was handled.”

 To salvage public opinion after a disaster for which your organization is partially or entirely responsible, she says, aim to connect with the public through honest and open communication right away.

“The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797. (Wiley, ISBN: 978-0-470-48818-8)

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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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