Crisis Management – a lesson from British Airways

I’ve tracked with some interest the developing media coverage triggered by the British Airways uniform controversy. I always recommend that anyone working in security takes a close interest in any external organisation that appears to be going through a crisis. And by “crisis” I mean an incident that begins to spiral out of control, seriously threatening the organisation’s revenue stream or ability to operate. There is no better learning vehicle than to observe and learn from the actions of others. That’s because it’s much harder to see things objectively when they happen within your own organisation.

The BA case demonstrates a classic trap in crisis management, i.e. tacking the apparent trigger of the crisis rather than identifying and addressing the actual cause. A classic precedent was the Brent Spar disposal. In that case, the root cause of the crisis was Shell’s communications style, rather than the soundness of their environmental disposal case. So the more they argued, the worse the crisis became. Shell eventually had to give in to the media pressure and start to transform their communications, with more focus on listening to what customers actually thought about their operations.

In the BA case the root cause of the crisis is clearly the negative public opinion about their uniform rules. You simply cannot argue against such perception. It will always win the day. Of course all of this seems obvious after the event. It’s much harder to think strategically when you’re in the thick of a crisis. Unless of course you’ve taken the trouble to study the lessons of previous crises, which, unfortunately, not many people bother to do.