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Crisis of A Crisis Manager; Lessons from FCMB’s Crisis.

Crisis of A Crisis Manager; Lessons from FCMB’s Crisis

Ishola Ayodele

Crisis is inevitable and wise organizations know it is always a matter of when. When a crisis manager becomes the source of his/her own organization’s crisis, it is always a dicey situation.

Around 10am on the 21st of December, 2013 shortly before embarking on a long flight from London to Cape Town, South Africa to visit her family during the holiday, Justine Sacco, the senior director of corporate communications at InterActiveCorp (IAC) (A media and Internet empire which owns brands across 100 countries) tweeted the following.
_“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”_
Within 2 hours the internet was on fire with massive criticism for Justin Sacco and IAC. People wondered how such an organization could choose a racist as their spokesperson. IAC took so much hit that by the time Justine Sacco landed in South Africa the first news she heard was that she has been fired by IAC.

The recent FCMB crisis is another classic example of such crises. The FCMB crisis team did well to prevent the already bad situation from getting worse. I will score them 59%. They issued a holding statement and got the embattled MD to go on a forced leave. Their crisis response strategy would have been excellent if they had not committed two critical mistakes.

1. FCMB’s holding statement came a bit late.
This delay gave other people the opportunity to define the crisis as well as the opportunity to shape the narrative. Hence FCMB was chasing the story.

The delay in my opinion as evident from FCMB’s holding statement is a result of conflict of opinions. I believe a part of the team find it very difficult to convince the other part that their CEO’s paternity scandal could have a ripple effect on their organization (FCMB). Even among PR experts, there were some who argued in the early stage of the crisis that the CEO’s scandal cannot affect the organization because he (FCMB’s MD) doesn’t have media visibility while others argued it can affect it.

The truth is that management’s actions or inaction has direct or indirect impact on organizational crisis. FCMB is a brand as we know brand crises come from moral/ethical malfeasance or product defects/incompetence. The FCMB’s crisis is as a result of the perceived moral and ethical malfeasance of the MD.

The CEO of any organization is the chief reputation manager consequently a dent on his/her image will have adverse effects on the reputation of the organization. Those of us that argued along this line of thought were proven right when the FCMB share price fell by 10% in early Monday trading according to nairametrics.

2. Wrong Use of Words
The FCMB’s holding statement reads,
“We are aware of several stories circulating across several media platforms about our Managing Director Adam Nuru, a former employee Ms Moyo Thomas and her deceased husband, Mr Tunde Thomas.
While this is a *personal matter*, the tragedy of the death of Mr Tunde Thomas and the *allegations of unethical conduct*, require the Bank’s board to conduct a review of what transpired, any violations of our code of ethics and the adequacy of these code of conduct ethics. This will be done immediately.
We enjoin all our stakeholders to bear with us as we conduct this review and to please respect the various families involved.
Thank you.”

I highlighted the problematic phrases in the statement.
i. You cannot say the root cause of the crisis is a personal matter and also say you want to investigate the allegation of an unethical conduct. It is like speaking from both sides of the mouth. Which is it, personal or unethical? If it is personal the bank has no business discussing it but if it is an unethical practice then you can investigate it. An employee’s matter (especially senior managers) is only personal to the extent that it doesn’t violate the social, moral or religious values of the society.

ìí. By starting the holding statement with the statement, “*While this is a personal matter*”, the bank has inadvertently acknowledged that such incident did happen. This further reinforces the perception of the people who believed the FCMB’s MD is guilty. You cannot acknowledge the occurrence of a crime and also say you want to investigate whether the crime happened.

iii. The use of *Forced leave* was unnecessary. It may give the impression that there is a level of confusion among top managers in the bank. The bank believes the CEO is guilty and he should step aside for the investigation but the CEO believes he is innocent and didn’t want to leave so he was forced by the board. This is not the type of scenario an organization in crisis wants to portray to the public.

Here is a reworded version of the FCMB’s holding statement
“We are aware of several stories circulating across several media platforms about our Managing Director Adam Nuru, a former employee Ms Moyo Thomas and her deceased husband, Mr Tunde Thomas.

This allegation falls under unethical conduct in our code of ethics and the bank has zero tolerance for unethical conduct. We hold our employees to high moral and ethical standard. Consequently, the Bank’s board will be conducting an investigation into this allegation for any violation of our code of ethics immediately.

To kick start this process, Mr Adam Nuru has decided to step aside as the MD of the bank until the investigation is concluded and a decision is reached. The board’s decision on this matter will be made public.

We enjoin all our stakeholders to bear with us till the investigation is concluded. We also implore the media to please respect the various families involved and exercise discretion in their reportage.

Thank you.”

To recover from the crisis stronger FCMB has to
a. Remind the public in a subtle matter and especially through third party the unique selling proposition of the banks and the numerous numbers of lives the bank has touched and is still touching.

b. Take down the viral video of the comedian slandering the bank on social media. The legal department needs to step in now. The bank needs to be very careful when involving the legal department you don’t want to turn it into a David and Goliath situation. Believe you me, it won’t end well for the bank but we can get a positive outcome if the strategy is effectively applied.

c. Make the findings of the board and their decision public.

d. If the allegation is true, there should be consequences and the public must be aware that the bank took a decisive action.

e. If the allegation is false, show it to public with smoking gun evidence wrapped in a well-crafted compelling message.

f. Create a system that allows whistleblowing on issues like this and other unethical conducts. There should also be a separate unit in the HR department that will handle this information of the whistleblower and they should report directly to the board and not the MD. There is a mechanism we can put in place to make this unit transparent, impartial and accountable.

g. Retain an agency with specialty crisis management and strategic communication. Because the best time for FCMB management to prepare for their next crisis is now.

1. Timing matters:
The old adage, “A stitch in time saves nine” is an eternal truth of life that organizations need to engrave in their DNA. Timely response to crisis is always the best. It puts you on top of the situation and positions you as the source of information during your crisis.

This crisis could have been contained much earlier had the FCMB team acted a bit earlier. It is not always an effective strategy to response after the pressure has built. It doesn’t show responsiveness and it also gives wings to the external narrative whether true or false.

2. Words matter.
Communication is a two way process. Thus, communication does not take place when you send the message but when the receiver gets it and gives the desired response. This is why communication in crisis is both an art and science. It involves message engineering

There is an allegation of extramarital relationship between two married staff of the bank. This is definitely not a private matter, it is an ethical matter and that was why the bank took a serious hit. I hope FCMB has understood this.

Any actions or communication of any employee of an organization/institution which negates the organization’s code of ethics or violates social, moral or religious tenet of the society in which the organization operates is likely to have an adverse effect on the organization.

In addition, one of the cardinal principles of strategic communication in crisis is, “don’t admit or deny anything until you have enough facts”. Therefore, the use of words like “personal matter” and “Forced leave” in the FCMB case study or any other word which suggests admittance or denial must be avoided.

2. Stop managing crisis, it is not a wise thing to do in crisis.
This was the core message of my advance crisis management training for top crisis managers late last year. The topic was “Why You Should Not Manage Your Next Crisis”.

My argument then and now is that managing a crisis is like pulling a stubborn donkey. You are forcing the donkey to move in your direction, this will cost you valuable time, resources and energy before you get the donkey to your destination (that is if you are lucky).

Here are few challenges of managing a crisis

i. As a crisis festers, organization’s options for dealing with it shrink.

ìí. When you are managing a crisis dealing with the media is very difficult.

iii. Getting control of the narrative is difficult. Hence, while managing a crisis organizations always chase the story.

iv. Your action, though well intended is viewed with scepticism.

v. It drains your resources.

So, what should we do as regard Crisis?

Don’t manage crisis, LEAD THROUGH CRISIS.

Leading through crisis is like riding a donkey with a carrot dangling in front of the donkey. The donkey goes wherever the carrot goes.

The benefits of leading through a crisis:

i. Ability to effectively manage the organizational change that occurs during a crisis.

ìí. Your organization will go through crisis with little damage compared to those fighting, handling or managing their crisis.

ìíi. Your organization will suffer fewer crises compared to her competitors.

I know the question that pops into your mind is, how can we lead through crisis? That will be the topic for another article. Please share your thoughts with me or send your questions to me via

Ishola Ayodele is a specialist in Message Engineering. His is the Chief Strategist of Issues & Crises Management Consult.

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