Molson Coors CEO Responds to Milwaukee Workplace Shooting

Initial Employee Message is an Excellent Example of Effective Communication Under Pressure             

2/27/20 – – Imagine the roller coaster of emotions experienced yesterday by Gavin Hattersley, CEO of the Molson Coors Beverage Company. He started the day overseeing the company’s annual conference in Houston, dealing with new products and initiatives sure to motivate the sales force and excite the market. Tragically, he ended the day at Molson Coors’ Milwaukee brewing facility, managing the company’s response to an onsite shooting that took the lives of six employees, including the shooter.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about yesterday’s incident. But what is confirmed is that at around 2 o’clock in the afternoon a Molson Coors employee shot and killed five colleagues at work before taking his own life. The facility was in lockdown for a time before employees were sent home. No date has been set to resume operations.

Learning the news, Hattersley immediately left the conference, flying from Houston to Milwaukee. In passage, he drafted a statement for all employees. Whether or not he had help from his communications folks, that had to be a hard thing to do. In fact, initial statements released at the beginning of crises — especially when there is loss of life — have to be one of the most challenging of all literary genres.

Working against the clock (until your response is published, others are telling your story, usually to your detriment), struggling with emotion (lives have been lost and families shattered), and working with incomplete and/or inaccurate information (like the fog of war, there is plenty of fog at the start of a crisis), a CEO must strike just the right tone of leadership and empathy. On top of all that, the CEO is trying to manage the crisis situation, making good decisions and taking appropriate action.

Hopefully, you will never be in Gavin Hattersley shoes. But just in case, analyzing his initial employee message posted on Twitter late yesterday is worth the time. Given all the challenges and potential pitfalls, I believe it is an excellent example of effective communications under pressure.

To understand the full swing of emotions, let’s look at the first two postings on the Molson Coors Twitter page yesterday:

We are ready to start Day 2 of our annual conference. We’re excited to share more of our plans today. Stand by for news!

Then this a few hours later:

There is an active shooter situation at our Milwaukee facility, and we are working closely with the Milwaukee Police department. Our top priority is our employees and we’ll provide updates in conjunction with the police as we are able.

And here’s Hattersley’s employee message, posted a few hours later:

Earlier today we received news of an active shooter on our Milwaukee Brewery campus. The police have since confirmed the shooter, who was an active brewery employee, is now deceased. There is no longer an active threat and our employees are in the process of being released to go home to their families.

Unfortunately, I am devastated to share that we lost five other members of our family in this tragic incident. The police are still working to notify their relatives, so I am unable to provide more information at this time.

There are no words to express the deep sadness many of us are feeling right now. The most important thing is that we support and care for each other. We ask that everyone be respectful of how our colleagues in Milwaukee are feeling during this incredibly difficult time and do what you can to be supportive.

Please hold your family members tight tonight and keep the families of our fallen teammates in your thoughts.

Again, imagine the pressure and emotion Hattersley and his team were feeling. Sure, a calm situation and a few more hours to edit might have resulted in a more polished piece of writing. But having assisted in drafting  more than a few of these messages during my career, I think this one is damn good.

Above all, the statement focuses on people, both the victims and the surviving employees working at the facility. Hattersley provides a lot of information, but does not speculate about facts he either does not have or is restricted from sharing. He stays away from insensitive issues like the duration of the brewery’s closure or projected loss of revenue. And he does a good job of expressing personal emotions without making the message all about him.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know how important I think it is to go to school on other people’s crises. Spend some time with Gavin Hattersley’s message to employees. Studying examples of how things should be done is way more helpful than poking fun at examples of poor execution.

My thoughts are with all Molson Coors employees and the families of those who lost their lives. 

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