There are almost daily examples of foolish company actions that lead to an unnecessary crisis. As with this case, someone high up failed to grasp the larger picture, they missed the perception. They took the bases-loaded, called third strike.
As an email from the king of baseball metaphorists, Bob Bellafiore, reminded us, we work in a world of perception, most of it created and certainly magnified by social media.
There are now endless arbiters of perception — a role once reserved for three network anchors and a handful of national newspapers. Now anyone with a Twitter handle or a Facebook page can start a revolution. Ask Hosni Mubarak.
Which brings us to the case of lifeguard Tomas Lopez. Patrolling his portion of Hallandale Beach in Florida, he did what few lifeguards actually get to do, he helped save a distressed swimmer.
Enter his private employer, Jeff Ellis Management. The company determined that to make the save, Lopez ran outside his defined patrol area without notifying someone to cover while he did so. Theoretically this might have endangered someone else.
Lopez’s supervisor fired him. Lopez appropriately called the rule interpretation “moronic,” and three other lifeguards quit in protest. Two others were also fired.
Then someone managing the management company back at headquarters woke up and realized what a mess the company put itself in. And, finally, how this would look when it “got out.” This is not to say that people should be governed by the masses or the so-called blogosphere; instead, people should think through their decisions and one of the rulers they must measure it by has to be how it will be publicly perceived.
A subsequent investigation found no one else was in danger and that a fellow lifeguard jumped into Lopez’s area of responsibility when he left it. Jeff Ellis, the owner, offered Lopez his job back. Lopez declined. And so this minor drama, which only five years ago might have gone unnoticed beyond those directly effected, or at most the local media, became a national talker.
And Jeff Ellis Management will be forever try to live up to its name and perceived — there’s that word again — as deficient. Self-inflicted crises are the easiest to avoid if people think and accurately gauge perception and the impact of a decision.
These events will continue to crop up — like the bus aide in Greece, NY; or the firing of the president of the University of Virginia, and her re-hiring; or the Adidas shackle shoe — and if you can’t avoid it, at least learn how to deal effectively with it.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.