January 12, 2015
Mon 01, 2015

Crisis Management & Communication: Case Study of racial profiling

 

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(photo from Diversity – Canada’s multicultural magazine)

Crisis Management & Communication: For organizations, it’s hard to experience a more emotionally-charged crisis than one that’s driven by racism. When security guards at Edmonton’s City Centre Mall kicked out and banned from entering the mall Gary Moostoos, a respected aboriginal elder, they were accused of racial profiling. The entire incident was recorded on video.

Once the issue became public, mall management waited a few days to say anything. By that time, the situation had become a reputation-destroying crisis.

It didn’t have to turn out this way. Here’s how Oxford Properties Development, owners and operators of the mall, could have better handled events.

Proactive crisis management & communication is key

If you’re responsible, you must be the first out with your messages. Sure, there may not be a lot to say at that point, but get out with what you have.

When the Pine Lake Tornado hit just outside of Red Deer, Alberta on July 14, 2000, the Capital Health region in Edmonton was told to expect many casualties. As the spokesperson, I had virtually no other information to share with the media. So I talked about the system’s emergency response plan and how we prepare to manage these types of situations.

While not the same magnitude, Edmonton City Centre mall waited two days to say anything in response to Moostoos’s accusations. By that time Mayor Don Iveson had weighed in and other Edmonton leaders. When the mall did respond, it sounded tentative and no one acknowledged any wrongdoing.

From that point on, the mall was playing catch up; reacting instead of shaping and influencing the story.

Successful crisis management & communication means stepping up if you’re responsible

Companies that find themselves in these types of situations need to think long and hard (but quickly) of who’s at fault. Be careful – it needs to be handled delicately.

Forget about pointing the finger at specific employees even if they are at fault. They work for you and their mistakes are your mistakes. Also, there’s a David and Goliath dynamic going on and it’s too easy to look like the bully.

At first glance, it seemed reasonable for mall management to accept all the blame. Yet a closer look shows the security guards are sub-contracted through GardaWorld. While the mall must lead the communications and accept the majority of blame, GardaWorld should not receive a free ride. There’s an expectation when you sub-contract, especially through a world-class organization, that you’re hiring the best of the best.

I believe City Centre Mall should have insisted GardaWorld join them in issuing an apology.

Successful crisis management & communication need effective leadership

Despite the slow start, the mall’s general manager did eventually try and do the right thing. Initial attempts to reach out and connect with Moostoos didn’t go well. He was not receptive and described the repeated voice mail messages as harassment instead of well-intentioned efforts to apologize.

The mall’s general manager deserves credit two weeks later for publicly apologizing at a flash-mob round dance organized by the aboriginal community in support of Moostoos. However, I’m not entirely comfortable with how it unfolded.

Why was the general manager the only representative from the mall attending the 300-person round dance. Was this fair? Given her emotional response, did she have any idea of what was going to happen before it happened?

Think if a few members from GardaWorld and Oxford Properties’ management team had joined her. What a statement it would make.

A crisis can build a strong reputation

Few companies I’ve worked with are able to see beyond the immediate crisis and build a reputation that’s deeper and more meaningful longer term. We all know however, that it’s the tough times in our lives, and how we deal with them, that tell us and others what we’re made of and stand for. The same goes for organizations.

Edmonton City Centre Mall has the potential to become one of Edmonton’s top business leaders in working with the aboriginal community to make our city a place where everyone feels welcomed. At the round dance, the mall’s general manager did suggest partnering with the Edmonton Downtown Business Association to address the systemic racism of Canada’s aboriginal people.

Summary

Gary Moostoos wants change, and won’t accept an apology until he sees real action. And if there is a bright side to this incident, it could be a turning point in Edmonton’s relationship with the aboriginal community.

That Moostoos was a respected elder in the aboriginal community and the security people didn’t know it might prove, long term, to be good. This probably happens every day, but because they happened to do it to someone so respected and known, where the apology mattered, there is reason to hope change will come from such a mistake.

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