May 30

How does it feel?

download (1)There’s nothing like watching multiple, ongoing crises unfold to make PR bloggers happy. For us it’s like winning the Triple Crown.

First, there was Donald Sterling. Then there was GM. Now, we have the V. A. hospitals’ delays. And, each crisis has multiple, never-ending news cycles. That’s manna for reporters and Repman types alike.

In each of the three crisis cases, we’ve seen horrific responses and worst practice examples of how not to manage an unfolding event.

But, rather than repeat what’s already been said by countless others, I’d thought I’d address the other side of these types of mega-crises: the impact on the morale of the rank-and-file employees of all three organizations.

A serious crisis can be like a cancer that, if left unchecked, can kill an organization from the inside out. Sure, customers will bail. Stock prices will plummet and competitors will scoop up market share, but employee morale and productivity are fundamental to any embattled company’s survival.

I’ve counseled many clients over the years, and ensured that human resources specialists work closely with grief counselors, organizational behavior experts and, when appropriate, even motivational speakers to ensure innocent employees’ needs are addressed.

But many company management teams simply forget their employees when a CNN crew is outside corporate headquarters, a Senate investigation is underway or ESPN is providing 24×7 coverage.

To wit, I remember attending a cocktail reception in the immediate aftermath of the massive, 2008 market meltdown. I happened to bump into a friend who had worked at the now defunct Lehman Brothers. I asked him how he was holding up. ‘I’m ok,’ he said, ‘but my family is taking a terrible beating. My wife’s friends are ignoring her and my kids are being taunted at school. As for me, everyone always asks the same question: How does it feel to have played a part in destroying our economy?’

I’m sure a version of that anecdote is happening right now to the tens of thousands of GM employees who weren’t part of the massive, decade-long quality cover-up.

Imagine what it must be like to work at GM right now. I’ll bet you can hear a pin drop in the corporate offices. And, as far as the factory floors are concerned, you better believe stress levels are overheating faster than a broken down ’68 Buick on the Cross Bronx Expressway.

If GM is to ever turn things around, it’s critical they pay as much attention to the psychological and emotional needs of the employee base as they do to regulators, politicians and the media. Ditto for the VA Hospital. As for the L.A. Clippers, I guess their employees can get away with saying, ‘Hey, I worked for an ass. What can I say?’

So, as the GM and V.A. stories move forward, pay attention to the most overlooked part of any crisis story: employee morale. It’ll be interesting to see how each organization does, or doesn’t, attend to the needs of their most important front-line ambassadors.

If nothing else, management should provide employees with credible answers to the question, ‘So, how does it feel to work for (fill-in the blank).’