I get a little miffed when people just outright bag on business, capitalism and suggest that business enterprises are inherently out to screw the public. This is why the BP Oil fiasco saddens me, specifically how the fiasco has been handled after the fact with such utter lack of emotional intelligence.
The fact is that BP Oil had a breakdown in their process and equipment which led to the current situation that we are currently in. If you want more on the spill details go here.
Companies are run by people and people make mistakes. It's how you deal with the mistake that matters. Two big problems are evident in the aftermath with regards to BP's reaction to the spill.
Problem #1- Lack of Preparedness
All businesses need to have contingency plans in place for when the unexpected happens. BP Oil seemed to have no idea what they were going to do in the event that something like this happened. In fact they have gone so far as to ask the public for ideas and suggestions. I don't necessarily have a problem with admitting that you don't have an answer. I do have a problem with you not having any answer at all.
Pride is a huge factor in this. There has been heated discussion betweens oil and environmental regarding the true safety of offshore drilling. This seems to have clouded the vision of oil in that they seemed to be so focused on showing that offshore drilling could work that no one stopped and asked, “What if it goes wrong?”
You have to prepare your business for problems that can arise through technology, people etc. This is especially true when you are dealing with something as fragile as our ecosystem. Let's face it, most of us don't have to worry about these types of explosive issues in our business but we still need to be prepared.
Problem #2- Treating Your Customers/Public Like They Are Idiots
There has been a lot of double talk and finger pointing in this situation about whose fault the spill is. BP Oil, if you are listening, I have news for you. We don't give a shit whose fault it is. Crisis situations demand leadership. Leaders don't pass the buck they own the situation and fix it. So what if the equipment was not specifically yours. You don't send an e-mail to your customers telling them they are idiots and then blame it on HP because they are the ones that made the computer that the e-mail was sent from.
My favorite part of this whole fiasco is BP reaction to their plummeting stock price. BP says: They are “Not aware of any reason for share price movement.” Thanks to The Daily Show for hipping me to that ridiculous press release. BP must think that their investors are complete morons.
I worked in corporate life for almost a decade and this is one of the biggest problems with the corporate structure. Typically the leadership is severely disconnected to the public. It shows in the way they communicate with us in such a “cover my ass”, political manner.
If you are running a business, what can you learn from this? First, be prepared for things that go wrong in your business and own your mistakes. The second is to treat your clients and the public like they are humans and speak to them in a manner that is authentic. No one is insulated from the public anymore.
A great example of how to respond to a mistake, granted on a much smaller scale, was given by baseball umpire Jim Joyce who made the wrong call that cost a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers a perfect game. See how he owned his mistake here. Jim owned the call as soon as he knew he got it wrong and make no mistake about it, he was sincere in his apology. It's time for BP to take note and stop giving business a bad name.