Do you have a Donald Sterling at the helm of your agency? Perhaps he or she is on the Board of Directors, in a position of leadership, or serving as a manager or supervisor. Maybe he or she is even your newest hire. The thing is, you usually don’t know until their hateful thoughts or behaviors are somehow exposed. While it is easy to rally around a common enemy like Donald Sterling, what this story really brings to light is the fact that there are those with racially offensive and prejudicial views all around us. It is how we handle them, and the situation that exposes their hateful thoughts or actions that makes the difference.
To begin with, don’t imagine that by ridding yourself of the “bad seed” that you no longer have a problem. That may be the first step, but there is healing and an aftermath to contend with. An incident, like that involving Sterling, may bond a team together, but it also leaves raw nerves and a level of distrust in its wake. Who else has these views or opinions? What is going to happen next?
- Get in front of the issue – Hold a meeting with staff. Whether the full organization is aware or just a small group of staff, quick action is key to managing the issue and containing its damage. Meet with those who are aware and affected immediately after the issue has been exposed and discipline or termination has been administered.
- Acknowledge and Inform – Staff already know about the problem, but they need to hear it from you, to know you understand it as well. Do so, and tell them what has been done to rectify the situation. If this behavior led to termination, say so. Owning that decision is important. If discipline or training were decided upon instead, inform your staff more generally that actions have been taken and that you are closely monitoring the situation. Recognize that the more egregious or offensive the behavior, the less staff are going to tolerate complacency in managing it.
- Discuss policy – Be specific and detailed as you describe company policy in managing the issue. Keep your focus on what is expected - both with regard to staff behavior and with their responsibility for informing about the behavior of others.
- Call to Action – Healing. What is most needed after a traumatic incident or other organizational shake-up is healing. Identify it – and describe what is going to happen next. Will the company provide training on issues such as sensitivity? Is any corporate restructuring necessary? How are staff expected to behave (i.e. is gossip about the issue forbidden)?
- Build on the strengths of the team. End the meeting by beginning the healing process. Describe the positives that have come out of this difficult circumstance (i.e. staff are more bonded together; this brought a heightened awareness of issues we need to resolve). List the good qualities that remain true of the team/group affected. Have and share an optimistic outlook for what the future will hold.
Overcoming a crisis can be a defining moment for any team – NBA or not. Define your company by building on the positives as you address the challenges.