Thursday, April 8, 2010

Don't Waste the Legion of Christ Crisis

Today Tiger Woods tees off at the Masters Golf Tournament. The Economist asks if he will emerge with added lustre from his own debacle. According to the Economist, "There is nothing Americans like more than a redemption story—particularly when the man being redeemed is supremely good at his job."

The key to a successful relaunch after a crisis lies in making a cool-headed assessment of how much the scandal damages an organization. If it involves life and limb, and if it has spread beyond specific areas or divisions so that it affects the entire corporate brand, then companies are well advised to go into collective overdrive.

If the answer is not, then a company can experiment with more nuanced responses - such as dumping a damaged product or cutting off a rogue division.

Successful organizations know how to manage a crisis. In fact the Economist article details the methodology:

First, the boss needs to take charge. This means sidelining corporate cluck-cluckers such as lawyers (who worry that any admission of guilt will lead to lawsuits) or financial officers (who obsess about the bottom line).

It also means putting the survival of the company above personal considerations (Leaders may need to step down after the crisis.) Many of the most damaging crises, by contrast, have resulted from foot-dragging at the top. 

"Foot dragging at the top." Think of Toyota (I've mentioned this case before.) Think the Legionaries of Christ and the Fr. Maciel scandal. Think the Vatican.

The Economist proposes a second rule:

Cisis-racked firms should redouble their focus on their customers. One former aide to George Bush junior, David Frum, tells the story of another, Karen Hughes, who sees a small plane towing a banner reading, “Jill, please come back. I am nothing without you. Jack.” Her response is, “Wrong message. It’s too much about you, not enough about her.”
Foot-dragging is not exclusive to the Vatican, the hierarchy or the Legionaries of Christ. I've learned in the  corporate world that endless talking about how to fix the problem doesn't solve anything. Implementation, execution, is what is needed. Larry Bossidy, former CEO of Allied Signal wrote a classic, with Ron Caran about implementation: "Execution : The Discipline of Getting Things Done." The book would make good reading at the most senior levels of the Legion and the Vatican.

Putting an execution culture in place is  hard. It is a question of knowing how to link people, strategy and operations together. It is a discipline that in order to work presupposes the leader's ability to select and appraise the right people for the job. This is a task that Bossidy says should never be delegated. The leader has to implement and personally supervise these processes.

Running a business, a congregation or a Church is not about articulating a vision and leaving the implementation to others. Nothing new here. Except sometimes we forget that the Church has a lot to learn about how to manage a crisis from the corporate world. Maybe even from Tiger Woods.

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