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When You Should Respond to a Crisis


The following originally appeared as a commentary by Edward Segal in his weekly “Crisis Ahead” podcast. Watch previous episodes and subscribe to his podcast at this link.

A best practice for responding to a crisis is that as soon as you see or hear there is a problem, don’t wait to do something about it.

In the past few weeks we’ve seen examples of companies and organizations that have taken decades to do something about racism, racist policies, and racist practices.

For any organization to deny they knew these problems existed would be to admit they have been blind and deaf to the realities swirling around them.

What’s worse?

To admit that you knew there were problems but did nothing about them? Or to say you did not do enough to address the problems?

Or should you confess that you did not even know about the problems?

No matter how you answer, unless you immediately deal with urgent issues and challenges today, you run the risk of causing or contributing to a crisis tomorrow.

Quaker Oats finally got around to doing the right thing recently when they said they will change the name and logo of their Aunt Jemima pancake and syrup brand.

A spokesperson for Quaker Foods North America said they recognize that Aunt Jemima's origins are based on a racial stereotype. They admitted that their efforts over the years to update the brand had fallen short of the mark.

That announcement was followed by one from Mars, the company behind the Uncle Ben’s brand of rice. Mars said the Uncle Ben character, which represents a racial stereotype, would disappear.

In a statement, the company said.,“Now is the right time to evolve the brand….We don't yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities.”.

Why did Mars think that this was right time to do the right thing? Perhaps the answer can be found in the recent civil unrest and protests against racism, racist policies, and racist practices that followed the murder of George Floyd by the police in Minneapolis.

It’s unfortunate but true that companies sometimes have to be encouraged — or pushed — to do the right thing

How about your organization? What issues or problems need to be addressed and resolved, and why haven’t they done something about them? What are they waiting for?

Companies that wait to do the right thing run the risk of creating their own crisis. My advice as a crisis management expert is this: don’t wait. As soon as you know there is a problem, do something about it.


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