Merge's Blog

Leadership in action – how one organization managed a difficult situation

Approximately three weeks ago, I delivered a live webcast for CGA Canada, a national association for accounting professionals.  An unprecedented 3,550 people worldwide registered for this conference (it must have had something to do with the topic – Dealing With Difficult Personalities :)) and in the weeks leading up to the event, staff at CGA Canada took steps to ensure that their technology could handle this high volume of participants.  They checked that the virtual room was big enough, that the bandwidth was sufficient, that there were backups in case of power failures and telephone line breakdowns.  Unfortunately, there was one thing that didn’t come to mind, and as Murphy’s Law is known to operate, it was the one thing that threw a monkey wrench in the works!  They didn’t check the size of the door!  They had a large enough room to handle over 3,500 participants, but only one regular sized portal.  And in the 5 minutes before the webcast was supposed to start, thousands of people tried to walk through that door at one time!  They all got stuck, no one could move forward or backward, and the whole system ground to a slow halt.

As frustrating and difficult as these circumstances were at the time, both for the participants and the organizers, it was the actions of the staff and managers in the next few hours that determined how people would look back on this situation later.  And kudos to the CGA Canada team; they demonstrated true leadership in action.  Within 15 minutes of realizing what had gone wrong, an email went out to all registrants to immediately apologize for the problem, acknowledge their frustration, and advise what was being done to make things right.  Within minutes of the bottleneck being identified at the portal, CGA management and staff made a decision to offer an encore presentation at a later date.  And in fact, later that day, they chose to offer two encore presentations within four weeks, as well as access to archived versions of the webcast.  When you think about it, an error of this magnitude could have been disastrous, both financially as well as in terms of client goodwill.  Yet, when the dust settled, the outcome was fairly benign.  Most people responded with good-natured teasing, and only a handful of customers were really disgruntled.

So what did the leaders in this organization specifically do that resulted in this positive outcome?  Four things.

  1. First, they owned the problem.  No blaming the outside vendor, no finger-pointing at each other, they just acknowledged that the problem was theirs to manage.
  2. Second, they apologized.  They said they were sorry.
  3. Third, they committed to making things right.  No excuses, just that they would fix it.
  4. And finally, they acted swiftly.  Within 15 minutes, an apology email was sent out, and later that afternoon, they had already scheduled the dates for the two encore performances.

In your role as a leader, you know that things go awry all the time.  But when that happens, how do you respond?  Do you own the problem?  Do you apologize?  Do you commit to making things right?  Do you act swiftly?  We can all learn from how this organization managed this difficult situation.

Tell me what you think.

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