In the Eye of the Storm

July 9th, 2007

ProenzaSure, some executives are seen as out of touch with their teams or maybe a little heavy handed in their management styles, but how bad does it have to be for half of your staff to sign a petition calling for your resignation? That’s exactly what happened recently to National Hurricane Center Director Bill Proenza (pictured at left) after only about 6 months on the job. A big part of his problem could come down to his communications strategy – or lack thereof.

For the record, Proenza told CNN he’s not going anywhere. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time the embattled director has aired the center’s dirty laundry in the media before first addressing his staff. Last month he caused an uproar when he made comments about a key hurricane satellite that he said could compromise the Center’s ability to forecast storms accurately.

The staff is clearly miffed by Proenza’s willingness to speak to the media about issues they feel should be kept in house. In fact, that point was addressed specifically in the petition calling for his job. “An unfortunate public debate is now occurring over the ability of the National Hurricane Center to meet its mission,” said the petition.

Proenza broke his staff’s trust by talking out of turn to the media the first time and he’s doing it again as the petition brouhaha comes to a head. He should have realized right away that he made a mistake and followed the golden rules of crisis communication – validate concern and show action.

I know I’ve talked about them before but a little refresher course never hurts and in Proenza’s case a Crisis Communication 101 crash course is clearly necessary. Either he didn’t know the rules or just didn’t care to follow them. If he did, he might have done something like hold an all-hands meeting and apologize to his staff and maybe even form an internal communications committee to facilitate dialogue on key issues between leadership and the rank and file. Hey Bill, they’re busting their butts for you, at least pretend that you care what they think.

Instead Proenza’s made it abundantly clear that his opinion is the only thing that matters and his staff has responded by calling for his ouster via petition. The black clouds are rolling in – all because he didn’t follow the golden rules of crisis communications. Sounds like a forecast for disaster at the National Hurricane Center.

Posted Under: Crisis Communications, Media & Journalism, Public Relations
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