Of Trust and Corporate Culture

Terry Francona

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What’s the worst that could happen?  That simple question sets the stage in crisis planning – analyzing an organization’s risks and vulnerabilities to its ability to conduct business.  In BlackBerry’s case, an interruption in service surely had to be on the top-five list, somewhere close to declining stock and competitive pressure from iPhone and Droid.

Some 48 hours’ worth of interrupted services to BlackBerry users in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and most of North America could likely send long-lasting ripple effects to Research in Motion’s reputation.  Repairing that is no simple feat, and a discount on services is a nice gesture for the short term.  Earning back trust, as RIM founder and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis noted as a prime objective in the closing of a well-scripted video update on the crisis, is a more long-term endeavor.  While discounts will win favor among some consumers, that good will last only as long as it takes for BlackBerry to encounter and manage another crisis.

As forgiving as they are, consumers impart their trust on products and services that have a long history of exceptional service and performance.  For BlackBerry, whose entry in the tablet market is struggling and is also facing pressure from Apple’s foray into the messaging space, ensuring uninterrupted service is but one task to accomplish in regaining trust in the consumer marketplace.  The stakes are now even higher for BlackBerry to regain market share.  If it hasn’t already, BlackBerry would be wise to think of re-engineering its brand – R&D, platforms, feature sets, software, hardware, customer service – to one the evokes passionate customer experiences.  Doing so helps establish trust before a crisis occurs.  It’s a lot easier to bank on that than after a crisis happens.

The Culture on Yawkey Way

Avid BoSox fans, including yours truly, grew up accustomed to the foibles of the local nine, whether on the field or in the front office.  That changed significantly over the last decade when new ownership came into town.  Winning miraculously changes everything.

The Red Sox’ historic collapse this season, however, just didn’t lead to two-time World Series manager Terry Francona leaving Fenway or hometown born and bred GM Theo Epstein heading off to resuscitate the Cubs.  It revealed the organization’s corporate culture – distrust.

Booze, fast-food and video games?  The former manager’s marital woes and pain-killer meds?  That’s not at the heart of what befuddled the team, but they’re convenient smokescreens for the handful playing Deep Throat with the Boston news media.  These anonymous sources, likely both players and management, are revealing more about what they’re not saying.  Neither the players, coaching staff or ownership trust each other.  They couldn’t get on the same page and back each other up during the September slide to oblivion.  And when Francona tried to take the high-road in announcing his bon voyage, players were mum on the record, but anonymous sources bloomed.  As Epstein was in talks with the Cubs, more anonymous sources foamed at the mouth.  Now we’re hearing of players wanting to leave and player v. player finger pointing ad nauseum.

A backstabbing culture of distrust will cripple any organization.  Fixing that starts at the top, well above the general manager.  If not, the culture will continue to infest what should be one of the most storied brands in all of professional sports.


Adrian Goes Gonzo

Red Sox player Kyle Snyder holding the World S...

Image via Wikipedia

I, like most native and transplanted Bostonians, am cloaked in black, mourning the epic and disgraceful collapse of the Boston Red Sox.

Several hundred million dollars for a couple of marquee players, and the World Series title was surely stamped and ready to mail to Beantown.  Oh, but are we ever accustomed to the Sox letting us down – Bucky Dent’s homer, Bill Buckner’s wickets, the Rocket’s mouth, the ’75 Reds, Aaron Boone.  What’s not as customary, however, is witnessing the whining and blaming the collapse on other forces.  Coaches coach; players play – win by the sword and die by it.

Except for Adrian Gonzalez – he of the near MVP-caliber season, plucked from his hometown Padres for astronomical riches and athletic greatness.  He blamed God and ESPN.


And what does this have to do with crisis communication?  In pure sports terms, it’s called manning up; in crisis communication (and the Sox, all players included, are in crisis mode even if the season is over) it’s called, well, manning up.  Acknowledge fault, errors, mistakes, etc., and what you and the team need to do in the future to minimize the likelihood of this happening again.  And then go out and do it.

A Herculean payroll assembled what was purported to be a sure-fire bet to bring another title to Fenway.  Gonzo and his banker can attest to that.  The first baseman, by all standards, had a spectacular season.  He has the stats to back it up, but apparently not the fortitude to accept the team failed and address it accordingly.  It was someone else’s fault – a higher power and the worldwide leader in sports – not the team or its players.

Go Tigers!