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Crisis Management Cultural Issues

Crisis Management Cultural Issues

Imagine an entire community emotionally paralyzed with indecision. Now, consider the impact during a crisis. This phenomenon occurs when communities suffer the sudden or traumatic loss of things that define them. It’s called Mazeway Disintegration. At their peril, most organizations do not anticipate the devastating impact of these crisis management cultural issues in their response planning. Fortunately, you can mitigate mazeway disintegration. We will walk you through how to address these cultural waypoints in your emergency response and crisis management plans.

crisis management cultural issues

Consider what happens to affected groups in an emergency or disaster.  In normal situations, our cultural reference points make it easier for us to comfortably conduct every-day life. This changes if a crisis disrupts or eliminates those cultural connections. Entire groups of people can be disoriented and even immobilized if they lose touch with cultural norms. Correspondingly, this limits their ability to cope with a disaster, compounding the difficulty of the crisis response.

If we do not mitigate mazeway disintegration’s effects, these groups may not be able to psychologically cope with the disaster. Accordingly, effective response plans need to address these crisis management cultural issues before a disaster occurs. The alternative is simply not acceptable since disoriented communities will only serve to prolong and magnify the crisis.

What is Mazeway?

First, let’s make sure we understand the term mazeway. Most of us have an organized and predictable way of doing all the things in our lives. It’s the pace, pattern, rhythm, and manner in which we interact with the world around us. It’s our mazeway.

The American anthropologist, Anthony F. C. Wallace, proffered the term, mazeway, six decades ago.  He wrote about what happens in a disaster from a different perspective.  He told the story of a Petun Indian tribe whose warriors returned home to find their village burned to the ground and every man, woman, and child a victim of a violent death or abduction.  Likewise, everything they knew, including their home, family, and possessions no longer existed.  He described their “shock” with the term mazeway disintegration.

mitigate mazeway disintegration

Socio-Cultural Disorganization

This is important because victims of other disasters often react in similar ways.  Think of people displaced by sudden onset natural disasters such as earthquakes and tornadoes.  They didn’t see it coming. Therefore, they were emotionally unprepared for a disaster taking away homes, lives and entire communities. Interestingly, this is true even if they live in an area prone to such hazards.

In these circumstances, normal mazeways disappear or become unconnected…. disintegrated.  These groups no longer have the things that connect them to the world in a way that is orderly. Moreover, being psychologically (and physically) unconnected can be severely debilitating.

Crisis management cultural issues can make it impossible for affected groups to engage in activities that would normally help. The crisis response needs to address and restore enough of the cultural reference points to allow communities to function normally. Otherwise, the response will not mitigate mazeway disintegration.

Planning for Crisis Management Cultural Issues

Preparing to mitigate mazeway disintegration is an essential component of an effective emergency response or crisis management plan. If the objective is to resolve the problem, restoring people’s lives to normal needs to be part of your planning. If you don’t do this, the problem will fester and perpetuate the crisis.

To mitigate mazeway disintegration, you need to have some understanding of what their maze looked like before the disruption.  Likewise, rendering assistance beyond basic first aid can either support a return to normalcy or add exponentially to the problem. In fact, you may exacerbate the problem if you fail to address the group’s cultural norms and crisis management cultural issues.

crisis management cultural issues

Business and Cultural Interactions

Think of all the different cultures affected by a large multinational miner, manufacturer, producer, refiner, or transporter.  Some examples are business cultures, national cultures, ethnic cultures, regional cultures, local cultures and then subcultures.  Businesses interact with these cultures every day. Nevertheless, these cultural interactions are far more complex in an emergency or disaster.

Consider a Chinese company that has a U.S. citizen as the country manager for their U.S. operations.  Many people assume this will provide sufficient understanding of the U.S. culture.  In fact, that may be true for normal operating conditions when the public isn’t affected by an emergency. However, that assumption is no longer true when things deviate from the standard.

Imagine restoring normalcy to a displaced Quaker community after a pipeline rupture that caused fires and a toxic H2S release. Contrast that with an undocumented immigrant community in a city, a casino resort on a Native American reservation or a massive subdivision of expensive homes.  Each one of those has its own culture and requires different considerations and types of assistance.

Three Ways to Mitigate Mazeway Disintegration

  1. Go Beyond Cookie Cutter Correctness. The political correctness mindset limits and hinders the effectiveness of response efforts. This makes a thorough discussion of risks, solid vulnerability analysis, and subsequent preparation essential. Even the most brand-aware organization will be rendered ineffective if they fail to identify crisis management cultural issues in their response.
  2. Know the Mazeways of Affected Populations. Determine the characteristics of the cultures, inside the fence and out. Do this now before you need it in a crisis. If you don’t know their cultural context before it is disrupted, you can’t effectively mitigate mazeway disintegration after the disaster. If you wait until impacted populations demonstrate crisis management cultural issues, it may be too late. In fact, after the disaster, affected communities may not be able to articulate what they need to restore normalcy.
  3. Get Independent Assessment. Don’t pawn this off on an overworked or unprepared employee. While it’s not feasible to have cultural anthropologists conduct exhaustive studies of every population, there are cost-effective options. In most cases, you can use professionals who understand this dynamic. They should identify those special populations and describe their needs using accurate descriptors. If they uncover difficult issues, you can address them at that time. Also, prepare the cultural assessment in a context that won’t be misconstrued. This will more effectively mitigate mazeway disintegration in a crisis.

The public now expects companies to avoid culturally insensitive collateral damage. This approach demonstrates your company’s interest in your stakeholders and guards against charges of corporate callousness. Preparing to mitigate mazeway disintegration doesn’t need to be a huge, resource intensive program. Modest programs utilizing knowledgeable resources can identify crisis management cultural issues and develop plans to address them. By following these steps, you can mitigate mazeway disintegration risks and ensure a much more positive resolution.

Transformational Crisis Issues

Transformational Crisis Issues

If managing the unfamiliar world of a transformational crisis keeps you awake at night, you’re not alone. Many top executives worry most about bet the company, reputation destroying problems and crisis issues they cannot anticipate or control. Part of the reason is they are dealing with the unknown. They can’t even know whether it will be a scandal, terrorism, a sudden change in public sentiment or some other unknown that will bring their company to possible ruin.

transformational crisis issues

Companies can face much worse, but you can be sure there has been much consternation at Facebook in recent weeks. One moment they seem to be handling the pesky problem of government concern, with a couple of officials even making petulant comments implying that the government just doesn’t get it. Then there were more revelations and soon the headlines included words such as Scandal and Game Changer.

One of the problems with a transformational crisis is that you really don’t know with certainty whether, when or where the next shoe will drop. It’s akin to an emergency response where you don’t want to state the reason for a major industrial incident before the investigation is completed, only it’s on steroids. At the same time, you need to do what you can. The best start is to have integrated crisis communications and crisis management programs in place.

In a previous post, we discussed ten crisis scenarios, but that only alluded to the kinds of surprises that await you in a transformational crisis and the crisis issues that may confront you. Now, to give you a head start we will give you some examples of the unexpected situations you may find in transformational crisis issues:

crisis issues transformational crisis

  1. Bankruptcy – You may just find it amusing when they pull the water cooler out of your breakroom, but that will change quickly when you learn that your PR firm won’t support you anymore and you can’t operate some of your communication channels without the “non-essential” support staff you lost. Many of your trusted vendors are not getting paid for past work and unless they understand what’s going on they may become your adversaries. The outside attorneys seem to be managing everything and they are now representing your company in Congressional inquiries. Their focus is on preventing greater legal risks rather than maintaining good relations. You can kiss goodbye the Congressional support you were getting in an international dispute.
  2. Litigation – Controlling the company’s legal risks has become the priority and outside counsel’s role has become increasingly important. Unless you have remarkably insightful counsel, your relationship preserving and building efforts will be pushed to the side. You may also find that some of your most trusted internal sources and even top executives are not as helpful because of their own personal jeopardy. They may be getting personal legal advice that is at odds with your view of the company’s best interests.
  3. Hostile takeovers/activist investors – With an activist investor or hostile takeover you can assume they have been carefully studying you for some time. They know what they are doing and have thought through the process many steps in advance. You seek additional support from firms or allies only to find them conflicted. You also need to consider how people’s short-term self-interest can override the long-term perspective you used to admire in them. If you address these assaults in the standard way, without entertaining creative thought and analysis, you may find that your every action has already been anticipated and successfully blocked.
  4. Third party incidents – If you are a business partner, customer, transporter, industry peer or otherwise associated with another company’s crisis, you will find yourself drawn in. Apple’s response to the Facebook scandal highlights this. Even in industries that consciously avoid criticizing other companies, something will slip. An intemperate comment from a lower level employee can draw you in. If the public reaction to their crisis is strong, you can be sure that there will be great interest by elected officials and this could result in punitive legislation that punishes everyone in your industry for your competitor’s failings.
  5. Corporate malfeasance/ government investigations – Prepare yourself for scorched earth. Many people will do anything to protect themselves and the things they value. Plea deals are just one example. You could also find that the good friends and government officials you helped elect have become your most vocal critics as they scramble to distance themselves from your growing scandal.
  6. Expropriations/ abrogation of contracts/ sanctions – Your ironclad contract that was carefully written and negotiated by some of the most brilliant legal minds in the world is enormously important until a sovereign government decides it is in their best interest not to comply. Oh sure, you can take it to international arbitration and enlist support from your government to pressure them, but don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking the other interested parties will see your position as their primary interest. In the game of international chess, even the biggest, most powerful companies can become pawns.
  7. Executive misconduct/sexual assault – Have you ever had someone you deeply trust and admire lie to you or even shift blame for their guilt onto you or another colleague? It is a horrible experience that shakes the very core of your beliefs and often lessens your ability to think clearly and respond appropriately. Just having to navigate through what and who is right is enormously challenging. Imagine how the complexity is magnified when one of the parties shifts the blame to you and the company for your actions or lack of action. Would it affect your judgment, if that person was likely the victim?
  8. Cyber-attacks/digital assaults – You learn that one of your trusted employees or vendors enabled a serious data breach. Was it an error or deliberate? Have you corrected every impact? Who and what was affected? How do you notify your stakeholders and what assistance do you offer? Consider what you would do if one of your predecessors authorized the payment of the Uber ransom.
  9. Mass shootings/ terrorism/ acts of war – Your company, employees, and customers are the victims of senseless violence and you’ve done everything within reason to prevent this, but some hold you responsible because you didn’t do enough. Hotels that were expected to prioritize guest comfort and privacy may now be expected to deliberately observe the behavior and actions of someone checking in a hotel. Previously accepted protocols with choke points to ensure screening and access control may now present opportunities to target terror and expose companies to new liabilities.
  10. Targeted reputational attacks – An activist group aggressively opposes one of your major operations and extensive research reveals that the funding allowing this expanded activity indirectly came from a foreign government intent on destabilizing our society. You’re both the target and collateral damage.  You’re doing business in that country and are reluctant to lose it. You also know that foreign interference has become so politicized that by revealing this information you risk more damage from the reactions of skeptics who won’t believe you.

overcoming transformational crisis issues

Sadly, this list only scratches the surface of the surprises you may encounter when you manage transformational crisis issues. We hope it will at least jump-start your thinking about necessary preparations before you encounter a transformational crisis. Your best bet is to identify sources and experts who have already dealt with many transformational crisis issues. Here we’re talking about professionals who have weathered the headline-grabbing, major issues that can ruin companies and reputations, as well as change entire industries. While they may not have handled every detail of a first-of-its-kind crisis perfectly, they learned a great deal about what works and doesn’t work in these extreme situations.

Managing transformational crisis issues is never easy and many fail, but if you line up the proper expert advisers and prepare to the best of your ability, you will get more right than wrong, impress your stakeholders with your resilience and ultimately succeed. Initially, managing the risk of a transformational crisis may still keep you up at night, but eventually, it will lead you to the constructive preparations that allow you to control the nightmares.

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