How not to do an apology
The role of the apology in a crisis is a vexed issue for crisis management. Who should, when, and what should be said has been not only hotly debated but filled many a research paper.
The (former) Captain of the ill-fated Concordia offers some lessons on what not to do!
Not only did he take a very long time to apologize (try six months! Makes Exxon Valdez’s slow response time look good!) But he did in such a way that made the apology meaningless.
He may as well have slapped the victims on the face.
The Italian cruise ship struck rocks and capsized near the island of Giglio, off the coast of Tuscany in January this year. Captain Francesco Schettino very quickly abandoned his sinking ship. He has been under house arrest but that sentence was lifted this week.
Interviewed on Italian television this week, Schettino said that he thought constantly about the victims. According to a report on the BBC, he said that “he was sorry for the disaster.” Then promptly went on to say that others should also “share the blame,” saying the ship had been under the command of another officer at the time. Really!
This is what he said:
“When there’s an accident, it is not just the ship that is identified or the company, the captain is identified and so it’s normal that I should apologize as a representative of this system.” Does that sound sincere? I think not.
So what should be said by whom and when in a crisis?
1. If an apology is called for, it does need to be the CEO (or equivalent)
2. The golden rule is that an apology if the organization is culpable MUST be done swiftly – within the day, ideally sooner. Some of my esteemed colleagues would say within 15 minutes! Now that is fast and one may not have all the facts.
3. The head and the heart MUST come together in a crisis – sincerity, transparency, humble, as opposed to be seen to saying the right thing and not meaning it.
4. Unless it is genuine and from the heart, an apology really is a waste of time – you may gain some traction in the press with the headlines shouting “I’m Sorry” (think Tiger Woods), but you may also be castigated for your insincerity
5. Take a leaf from Michael McCain, CEO of Maple Foods, the Canadian-based food manufacturer, whose product was linked to the death of 12 people in 2008 – his apology is almost textbook perfect.
Highly Effective Crisis Management