When all hell broke loose this past fall with the USADA stripping Lance Armstrong of all 7 Tour De France titles and most recently his admission of guilt to Oprah, the LIVESTRONG Foundation came under scrutiny that threatened the very survival of the organization. Donors were crying fraud, lawyers were lining up to sue, etc. The future looked grim for those associated with the foundation. If you’ve read this far, you are probably wondering what does this have to do with your Credit Union? Well, let me tell you. All organizations must consider the threat of reputational damage however; very seldom do they adequately prepare and/or exercise this scenario. Our professionals weigh in below on the LIVESTRONG crisis management response and share how you can learn and incorporate these ideas into your BCP, Business Coninuity Planning, strategies.
Anatomy of the LIVESTRONG Response
We often talk about the “Golden Hour” once a crisis occurs – that period of time in which you have to get your story out before anyone else does. In a reputational threat situation, the story is already out but how you respond to it and when you respond to it is equally important. The LS Foundation response upon publication of the USADA report was swift and succinct – acknowledging the damage while beginning to communicate deliberating and repeatedly that the foundation was “more than one man”. Specifically the LS Leadership:
- Were quick to express disappointment and affirm the actions were against the foundations core values – A charitable organization must be above reproach. Your Credit Union is no different. Condemning the behavior and not the man was the way to recognize the issue while not ignoring the strong ties he had to the foundation. Your Credit Union has a mission and values statement. When it is breached, are you prepared to respond?
- Focused on what the organization has done (positive results) and will continue to do – Almost immediately, the foundation carefully constructed communication pieces to educate the public on what it’s mission was (cancer survivorship research) and what their accomplishments were to date (close to $500 million). In a time of reputational crisis, it is important your members know that you are financial sound, ethically led and operationally resilient.
- Took deliberate actions to distinguish themselves from the “threat” (in this case – Lance’s reputation). Within days, he was no longer the Chairman of their Board. Within weeks, the organization name was changed from “The Lance Armstrong Foundation” to “Livestrong Foundation”. All of a sudden, the foundation’s “face” was someone you could relate to – a child with blood cancer, a young athlete with prostate cancer, a young mother battling her second round with breast cancer. A brilliant strategy as it made the foundations plight a bit more personal for each of us. And admirably, the foundation has continued to support Lance Armstrong, the cancer survivor and organization’s founder. To do so would undermine every cancer survivor who drew strength from his recovery. This isn’t a time to finger point, it distracts from the message you want to send. When your Credit Union’s reputation has been associated with a threat – real or perceived – Talk about who you ARE, not who you are not.
As a Credit Union leader, you can prepare against reputational threats just as you do hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes:
- Consider your worst case scenario – massive ID theft? Leadership wrongdoing and/or embezzlement? Draw up a scenario no matter how uncomfortable it makes you and develop a strategy for response!
- Exercise the plan – Once your scenario is developed, take time to exercise the plan and create muscle memory. Role playing is an effective method to assess your preparedness level for all risks including reputational. Can’t get started? Consider reaching out to experienced BCP planner to assist in developing and exercising this critical scenario.
- When an incident does occur – Don’t hide! Communicate quickly at all levels – staff, members, board and public. All eyes are on you – turn this into an opportunity vs. a crisis.