The art of proactivity: ‘Trust me now so you’ll trust me in a crisis’

The best time to deal with a crisis is when none exists. You prepare a boat in harbor for the inevitable seaward gale; or stock your pre-hike backpack on a warm sunny day in case the mountain top is cold, wet and windy; or you provision your house and hook up a generator for the hurricane to come.

Proactivity in anticipation of a crisis is an extraordinarily beneficial choice. And it is a choice you should make.

We came across an excellent proactive move by Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear power plant operator and supplier of electric power to the Philadelphia region. [Exelon was briefly a client 18 months ago, but is not now].

A letter went to people living near its Limerick, PA nuke and Exelon’s site vice president Bill Maguire [note: not signed William F. Maguire] mailed it on the one-year anniversary of the catastrophic events at the Fukushima nuclear power plant after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

You can figure easily what the letter contained, but it meant to educate, inform and reassure. It noted that the plant invested 3,800 person hours of training based on the lessons from Japan; it noted 208 new procedures and operating guidelines that plant managers created, revised or verified following Fukushima; it informed the populace that Exelon and other U.S. plant operators ordered or  installed additional safety equipment.

We can’t speculate how Limerick’s residents responded, but generally positive news coverage enhanced it. The letter is a smart, proactive effort to build trust so residents and employees [never forget the value of your internal audience] feel safe, cared for and cared about.

In another current example of why dumping a decision in stakeholders’ laps does not work and proactivity does, consider the year-later status of the Elmwood School in Syracuse. A year ago, parents fought the short-notice plan to close the school. This year, they welcomed it. What changed?

The superintendent, Sharon Contreras, this year explained the reasoning behind such an emotional decision. As the Syracuse Post-Standard reported:

Contreras has proposed closing the school to save money and because its academic performance is chronically low and the district does not have the money to give students and teachers the extra help they need to improve. It also makes sense to close Elmwood because most of its students live outside the neighborhood, she said.

Last year, the school parent group came out strong against shutting down Elmwood. Wednesday, Twiggy Billue, president the Elmwood parent-teacher group, said she, too, supports closing the school because of its poor academic performance.

She said she wasn’t given a clear picture last year about the academic performance or that most of the students at the school come from outside the neighborhood. Elmwood students need to be moved to schools where they can get the support they need, Billue said. 

In addition, Contreras outlined an austerity plan for the school district overall, giving as many details and facts as she could. Proactivity.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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