Performance and the Road to Crisis Recovery

Tiger is Back!

9/26/18 – – If you were a crisis counselor for Tiger Woods, this headline in the September 25, 2018, New York Times might have brought tears to your eyes: “As Redeemed Champion, Woods Is Even More Beloved.” The article — reporting on the golfer’s first tour win in five years — captured the emotion of the moment:

“On the final green of the Tour Championship in Atlanta on Sunday, he finally putted his ball in the hole, and as he raised his arms and smiled broadly, the cheering seemed as if it would never stop just like the old days.”

Ah, the old days. Before the man who was the best golfer and one of the most admired men in the world fell from grace. Before personal crises and health issues derailed an extraordinary life and career.

Recovering from crisis is difficult. As we discuss in Chapter 21 of The Crisis Preparedness Quotient – Measuring Your Readiness to Weather a Reputational Storm (“Performance is the Best Path to Recovery”), a crisis is never over until the assailed person (or company) is perceived to be back on his or her game and out from under the cloud of crisis. Apologies, good behavior, time away from the spotlight are all important. But performance is the surest, if not the only path to full recovery.

Just ask Tiger.

We know performance heals major wounds because we’ve witnessed the successful second acts and public re-embrace of such past offenders as Kobe Bryant (charges of sexual assault), Alex Rodriguez (use of performance-enhancing drugs), William Jefferson Clinton (allegations of sexual misconduct and lots of other stuff), Michael Phelps (drunk driving), and Jane Fonda (Hanoi Jane). Each has placed a lot of good work between his or her indiscretions. Not all has been forgotten. But thanks to performance, much has been forgiven.

When you’re blocked from getting back in the game to show everyone you can still perform, recovery is almost impossible. Imagine the frustration of Billy Bush (locker room behavior with a future president caught on tape), Anthony Weiner (sexting with underage girls), Ray Rice (domestic violence), Harvey Weinstein (allegations of sexual assault), Bill O’Reilly (allegations of sexual harassment) and Lance Armstrong (blood doping). They can’t get back to work, back on the field, back on the air or back into office.

Contrast the situations of fallen TV newsmen Brian Williams and Mat Lauer. Williams, who was less than truthful while anchoring NBC Nightly News, is back on the air at MSNBC working his way back into our trust. Lauer, who lost his high-profile role as the host of NBC’s TODAY after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct came to light, finds himself in the wilderness.

Now, the marks against Williams and Lauer are not equivalent. And it’s important to remember that the probability of crisis recovery has a lot to do with the reputation of and public respect for the troubled individual (or company) before the crisis. It will be interesting to see if Lauer will ever be able to reclaim a meaningful media platform.

The lessons from these personal battles are relevant to companies and other organizations. Nothing reverses the sting of a missed revenue target better than a few quarters of solid earnings. The introduction of innovative new products can pull an under-performing manufacturer out of a tailspin. And a few years without any health code violations can bring people back into a beleaguered restaurant chain.

There’s no shortcut to crisis recovery. Tiger’s took five years and a lot of hard work. According to the Times article on his improbable tour victory, it was worth it:

“I felt like crying, and I did begin to tear up,” Woods later said of his advance on the final green . . . “When I came back, I didn’t know what to expect. But the energy from the fans has uplifted me on those days when it was difficult for me. They’ve been great to me.”

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