5 Crisis Management Lessons From Flight MH370

Incidents and events surrounding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 have been complex and varied. How the crisis has been managed provides some very clear lessons for crisis leadership and crisis management development for other businesses and executive managers.

We have been monitoring the incident and it’s impact from the beginning, along with providing updated analysis and advice. Here are our 5 top crisis management lessons from flight MH370 based on the data collected and input from our expert crisis team.

Remember, we qualify a crisis as “an unplanned incident or several simultaneous incidents that significantly affect a business”.  Ordinarily this event would have been coordinated by “incident management” or “priority management” teams as there would have been effective teams, plans and preparations for this scenario as a plausible outcome of operating an international airline. As we see this as lacking or ineffective, we qualify this event as a crisis.

See Also: The Sinister, Scary Impact of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

1. Ownership & Authority

Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian Government are not one in the same. One is the commercial provider of services and the operator of flight MH370, the other is the country’s government and origin for this national/flag carrier. One should be the focal point for all communications and engagement with stakeholders, the other is a stakeholder. This delineation has not been maintained, clear or preserved throughout the incident with each entity communicating over the top of each other or their views and comments causing issue for the other. The net result is that both entities have suffered due to a lack of clear ownership of the issue and defined authority on who does what and when.

This issue should have been quickly identified and managed throughout the course of the incident. While it may not have resolved the overwhelming negative to neutral sentiment around the handling of the incident, modifiers and better crisis leadership measures could have been implemented.

It should be clear to all stakeholders, including the media, who is responsible and in charge of a crisis or significant incident such as this and that status should be maintained throughout, unless there is very good reason to alter this status and that too much be clearly and consistently communicated.

Sentinment Analysis.Flight MH370.Intelligent Travel

Sentiment Analysis: Flight MH370

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2. Scenario Mapping

Numerous scenarios, interests and issues can arise from any critical incident or crisis. It is important to map all the likely and plausible events and develop counter plans and communications for each of these scenarios. A failure to do so means you are constantly chasing the lead issue and responding to opinion or developing topics. This is what happened with flight MH370. Each time there was a wild or relatively accurate assumption, story or claim, the focus of the crisis management response was to follow and counteract the issue, not lead and plan in advance. By not having these complete scenarios in advance, it has resulted more in “crisis pursuit” than leadership and management.

Some of the key scenarios and counter plans should have included; acts of terror, course deviation, plausible causes, popular myths, technical facts, inter-country collaboration, etc

Topic Trends.Flight MH370.Intelligent Travel

Topic Trends: Flight MH370

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3. Public Education

Despite the public’s opinion or awareness that aviation is now a rather simple and straightforward affair, it is simply not the case. Therefore there is a lot of education and technical communications that needs to be presented to the public in order for them to understand the specific answer or appreciate why things are not instantaneous. Including just how many stakeholders are involved in even the most simple of events perceived events when it comes to flying across multiple countries and travelling thousands of kilometres in a single flight. This wasn’t done effectively. Too much speculation or education [both accurate and inaccurate] was left to the public forums and media outlets to educate and dominate the conversation, leading to even more questions and response requirements for those handling the crisis.

Breakdown the message, separate technical data and education from the updates and information of the event. Pre-prepare many of these elements in advance and use them when/where relevant. Don’t just talk about the actions and plans, without explaining some of the technical limitations or issues that affect the decision or success of the plan. Assume nothing. Educate, inform and empathise in unison.

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4. Endurance

It is surprisingly shocking how ill prepared businesses or crisis management teams are for a protracted event. Crisis events may last for days, weeks, or months before returning to something close to the tempo experienced prior to the event. Some businesses meet their end as a result of a poorly managed crisis, or simply ‘limp’ along in a greatly diminished capacity post incident. While there was a lot of activity and response in the initial hours and days of the incident, the ability to maintain the tempo required faltered very quickly. Key appointments, information updates, points of contact and many other elements of the crisis response were intermittent in their availability or contribution, allowing for massively significant third party influence in their absence. This in turn resulted in having to manage that influence and respond to non-scheduled issues which in turn consumed the time and resources of the crisis team when they did again surface.

Gone are the days where you can force a single press conference or scheduled information update to all interested and affected parties. It is a 24/7, global news environment now and has been over over a decade.

There are many more channels in which an effective crisis leadership response much engage and communicate via in the modern era.

Immediately plan for sustained engagement and prolonged activity at the outset of a ‘crisis’. You can always stand down resources or scale back but surging in fits and starts yields poor results and will not contribute to a successful outcome. People need to eat, sleep and rest but your priority management systems can not be permitted to do so.

Primary Media Sources.Flight MH370.inteligent Travel

Primary Media Sources: Flight MH370

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5. Objective Analysis

A very, very small percentage of the audience interested in flight MH370 originated from Malaysia. Most of the interest, pressure and news coverage originated from outside of Malaysia. This key stakeholder group needed to be better catered for, not only due to their interest but also the influence they had on the rest of the world and families affected.

Step away from cultural norms and internally accepted practices and consider the demand and impact from the perspective of objective and third party influences, if necessary. Objectively evaluate your performance and results through the eyes of those you need, must or want to influence. This includes victims, families and directly affected stakeholders, not just the media.

Schedule information and communication updates to correspond with key timezones and peak periods in your stakeholder locations. i.e news updates that might be late at night or early morning for you but morning, afternoon and evening news update periods for your biggest or most influential audience.

Top Country Interest.Flight MH370.Intelligent Travel

Top Country Interest: Flight MH370

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Our sympathies and condolences to the families and victims of flight MH370: Intelligent Travel

Tony Ridley, CEO Intelligent Travel

Travel Safety Experts
Travel Safety Experts

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