Spring Training

It's hard to believe but baseball Spring Training starts this week. Pitchers and catchers report in a few days. Although Spring Training is a time for renewal and looking ahead, not back, here's a blog that I posted last year at this time. I think is still relevant.

For baseball fans, there is nothing like Spring Training. It is a time to forget about last year and look forward to a fresh start. It is a chance to shake off your blues and have a little fun in the sun. It's like a break but not a vacation. Teams establish their goals for the coming season, and every player works hard or they don't make the team.

Hope springs in Spring Training. Whether they are rookies or veterans, All Stars or Minor Leaguers, Hall of Famers or guys who only had a cup of coffee in the show, everyone has a positive outlook. There are no egos in Spring Training. Everyone mingles with the fans and signs autographs. Every fan has a chance to sit in the front row.

We could all use some spring training to help us escape from the daily dose of gloomy economic news that makes us dread getting out of bed in the morning, and refocus on what we need to do to improve personally and professionally. From a PR perspective, spring training would be a chance to examine our brand, polish our key messages and adjust our communications strategies. It would be a time for every player and coach to get on the same page and realize that only by playing as a team can we give ourselves a real shot at winning the title.

To paraphrase Nuke LaLoosh from the movie Bull Durham, "Baseball is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains."

If we think about our own businesses and our own lives that way, we can boil it down and keep things simple. We can avoid getting hung up on the negative and focus on the positive. We can allow ourselves an opportunity to let go of our mistakes and start fresh.

In Spring Training, every team starts out in first place. The teams that win in October are the ones that maintain that perspective through all the ups and downs they encounter over the course of the long season.

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Ship of fools

A Denver funeral home puts the wrong body in a casket. Then they have to dig up the right body. Then they tried to bury the problem by refusing to comment.

The University of Colorado dental school lets unlicensed residents prescribe drugs using the credentials of off-site faculty members who never saw the patients and in at least one case, did not have an active state license to practice. Whoops. I guess someone forgot to attend the regulatory compliance class.

Toyota spends months ignoring or denying a serious safety problem until the company's reputation for quality and integrity is badly damaged. Now Toyota is spending millions on full-page "open letters" (don't you love that term?) in major daily papers and facing hundreds of millions in repair costs and lost sales, not to mention the long, painful process of repairing its brand. Oh what a feeling.

A crisis can happen to any organization, big or small, at any time. It is not surprising that all these crises popped up in the same week. What is surprising is how they were handled. The funeral home obviously did not have a crisis plan at all. CU and Toyota apparently knew about their situation but ignored or failed to address it for a long period of time. What the heck were they thinking?

Crisis management is not just about how you respond when you have a crisis. Putting the fire out is a lot harder than preventing the fire in the first place. Repairing a reputation is a lot harder than building it. Every organization should consistently be anticipating potential problems, determining how those problems can be prevented, and developing a fluid plan to address those problems if, in fact, they do happen.

This plan should include:

A designated crisis team and team leader. The leader sends out the "Bat Signal," and calls the team into action when action is required.

A system of communication: Who contacts which stakeholders? Who is the spokesperson designated to speak for the organization?

A messaging platform that allows the spokesperson to show compassion, define how the organization expects to fix the problem, and puts the situation into perspective in a way that positively reflects the values of the organization.

A careful post-crisis review process to help the team identify what worked well and how the crisis plan could be improved.

The midst of a crisis is not the time to wonder where the fire extinguisher is and when was the last time you checked to see if it works. Taking some time to plan ahead will provide you the best shot of minimizing the damage and reducing the recovery time. In business, your reputation is all you have. Don't screw it up by being stupid, shortsighted or arrogant. No one wants a ticket on a ship of fools.

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