3 crisis response lessons from Ford, Dallas Mavericks

Both companies face turmoil as their toxic workplace cultures have seen increased scrutiny from watchdogs and journalists. Here’s what PR pros can learn from their respective responses.

Your office culture can be a powerful recruiting tool—but a workplace with no boundaries is destined for headlines and courtrooms.

Two high-profile organizations—Ford Motor Co. and the Dallas Mavericks basketball team—have been putting out fires surrounding their cultures of harassment and abuse amid increased workplace scrutiny rippling from the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood and the ensuing #MeToo movement:

Ford takes action

Ford has faced criticism for longstanding harassment and abuse at two of its manufacturing plants in Chicago.

A New York Times article detailed complaints from more than 70 workers over the decades, revealing a systematic problem within the company.

In response, Ford issued an apology and vow to address such matters. Its commitment was tested when allegations of improper conduct surfaced around a rising star, chief of North American operations Raj Nair.

The Verge wrote:

Nair had been with the company for 31 years, and in 2017 was named to the position of president of North American operations. He had previously served as the company’s CTO, and also ran Ford’s global product development. Nair was broadly in charge of the company’s most ambitious technology efforts, like its attempt to create on-demand mobility services, and its push toward self-driving cars.

“I sincerely regret that there have been instances where I have not exhibited leadership behaviors consistent with the principles that the Company and I have always espoused,” Nair said in the company’s statement. “I continue to have the utmost faith in the people of Ford Motor Company and wish them continued success in the future.”

The company has not detailed the actions that resulted in Nair’s departure, choosing brevity over transparency.

In a press release Ford said:

The decision follows a recent internal investigation into reports of inappropriate behavior. The review determined certain behavior by Nair was inconsistent with the company’s code of conduct.

“We made this decision after a thorough review and careful consideration,” said Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett. “Ford is deeply committed to providing and nurturing a safe and respectful culture and we expect our leaders to fully uphold these values.”

Mark Cuban’s rambling explanation

The Dallas Mavericks, an NBA team owned by entrepreneur Mark Cuban, have been addressing the franchise’s own harassment scandal after an explosive report from Sports Illustrated detailed a long history of abuse and a failure to follow up on reports of misconduct.

Cuban responded directly to the allegations, taking responsibility for the continued employment of a writer who was convicted of domestic assault and who abused a girlfriend who was also a Mavericks employee.

ABC News reported:

“I want to be clear: I’m not putting the blame on anybody else,” Cuban told ESPN. “It came down to my final decision that I made.”

In hindsight, Cuban said, “I would have fired him and still made him go to counseling” after learning details of the first domestic violence incident, expressing regret for not following up with police to discover those details.

ABC continued quoting Cuban at length. Here’s an excerpt:

“So I made the decision, it was my decision and again, in hindsight, I would probably do it differently. I made the decision that we would make him go to domestic abuse counseling as a requirement to continued employment, that he was not allowed to be alone without a chaperone in the presence of any other women in the organization or any other women in a business setting at all, and he was not allowed to date anybody [who works for the Mavericks]. From that point on — and the investigators are going to see if we missed anything else — he appeared to abide by all those rules, as far as I knew.

“So that was my decision. What I missed — and it was truly a f—up on my part because I was not there [at the Mavericks’ office] — I looked at everything anecdotally. My real f—up was I didn’t recognize the impact it would have on all the other employees. I looked at this as a one-off situation where, OK, if I don’t do anything, this person could go out there and do damage on another women another time. Or do I say, can we get him counseling to try to prevent that from happening again? I thought I was doing the right thing at the time.”

What can PR pros learn from these attempts to respond to a toxic workplace culture?

1. Actions speak louder than words.

For some, Cuban’s comments rang hollow:

In any crisis response, focus on the actions being taken to remedy the problem.

2. Sometimes less is more.

Cuban had to respond to details reported by Sports Illustrated. In contrast, Ford controlled the narrative by acting fast and staying opaque about the specifics of Nair’s misconduct.

3. If you share your thought process, be ready to defend it.

By disclosing his decision-making process, Cuban opened himself up to ridicule and second-guessing.

If he had kept to a simpler statement, taking responsibility and offering a short apology, it would have given reporters and critics less to dissect.

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