'Shying away from media crises makes it worse for businesses'

(PATRICK CASTILLO)   


 

Management guru Jack Welch has advised businesses in the Middle East not to shy away from the media in times of crisis – topical advice given the state of the global economy.

 

“Businesses in the Middle East are lucky as they have not really faced crisis. But if you are in such a situation never avoid the media. If you have a story, go and tell them and don’t give them the chance to interpret it.
 
If you are the first to inform the media that your company is in a crisis, you can define yourself. Why give media a chance to define you?” asked Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, on the second day of the Winning Strategies Forum being held in Dubai.

 

Giving examples from his tenure at GE, Welsh also spoke about a personal crisis. “Very recently I was on CNBC and the host kept asking me about my successor at GE, Jeffrey Immelt. I was all praise for him but the host kept harping on the fact that he had missed the numbers and I inadvertently said it was a screw up.

To my surprise the next day I made headlines of Financial Times for rebuking Jeffrey. The media did not write anything good that I had said about the guy but focused on the one word that I’d said.

 

“The next day I had to go back on television defending myself and explaining it in my column. The same things happens in business – the problem may be small, the losses may not be grave but if you hide it from the media the story may be interpreted in a different way. Tell them exactly what has happened and then look for ways and means to overcome the crisis,” Welch recommended.

 

During bad phases in business, Welsh followed five simple steps to crisis management. “One problem that I’ve seen world over is that people like to keep problems under cover. Why should we hush-hush it? You have to assume the worst. Skip the denial and assume that the crisis will get bigger, messier and more awful than you can imagine,” he said.

 

“Next, you have to assume that everyone will find out about this mess. Get out of the problem, and expose its scope before somebody else does it for you. In this case, always keep the media in mind. They will not make you look good, and your own people can be a tough audience. So define your position early and often.”

 

Once in the middle of crisis, businesses should understand there will be changes in process and people. “Crises don’t just fade away. They require solutions and often upend crisis.”

 

But with each crisis there is a ray of hope. As a manager or leader, one has to assume that his/her organisation will survive. “We learn something from every crisis. Taking the long view will make hellish moment more bearable,” said Welch.


 

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