The ultimate question of crisis management and crisis communication has to do with recovery. JetBlue has given itself a monstrous black eye. And now, they are in the middle of the traditional media ‘black hat” spin cycle. Can it recover?
The basic rules for response when things have gone wrong are:
1) Accept responsibility
2) Apologize and make restitution if possible
3) Clearly identify the changes that will be made to prevent recurrence
4) Identify how future reports on progress will be made
Oh, yes, and do this all in the first few hours after the event–or as soon as is feasible given the distribution of the bad news in the instant news world.
So, how is JetBlue doing. Here is today’s New York Times report (thanks Neil!). http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/19/business/19jetblue.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper&oref=slogin
1) Accept responsibility. Yes and No. Neeleman’s quote that he was humiliated and mortified is good–very good even. But he blames management. Who is management? Ultimately, he is. He certainly doesn’t go as far as Johnson and Johnson executive in charge of the foreign divisions who accepted full responsibility and resigned–even though he was not aware of the problem. I’m not saying that Neeleman needed to resign–but acceptance of his own level of responsibility for not putting in place the management that he now says is missing is a problem.
2) Apology and restitution. Yes and No. He said he would announce a compensation system tomorrow. Too bad not today. There certainly sounds like genuine repentance in there, but until tomorrow comes, we don’t know. And that’s a problem, because the judgment is being made today in many people’s minds. Tomorrow, the plan will have to better than what it would have been if announced today.
3) Clearly identify the changes to be made. Mostly No. While Neeleman identified the problem as communication and lack of trained staff, the solution presented is to train 100 corporate office staff to help do the resource allocation work that was missed here. I don’t know about that. I think I would have been more comfortable with something a little more substantive addressing specifically the lack of staff, or inadequate training, or inadequate communication infrastructure than just saying we have to train some more corporate staff.
4) Report back. No sign of promise about future communication on this.
Mr. Neeleman did make an interesting comment: “We will be a different company because of this.” As I learned recently from Lynne Doll, president of The Rogers Group and one of the nation’s best crisis communication experts, every organization is a different organization coming out of a crisis. In fact, a crisis can almost be defined as an organization altering event. So, Mr. Neeleman spoke the truth here, even if it is a somewhat obvious one. What is not completely clear–and needed to be to come out of this with a higher likelihood of regaining credibility and confidence–is whether it will be a better company. Mr Neeleman and his communication team still have some work to do to convince the public and passengers of that in my opinion.