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Will the CBI’s crisis management strategy over the sacking of Danker backfire?

The CBI’s strategy over the sacking of Tony Danker is intriguing. 

The most common communications approach when someone leaves an organisation for behavioural shortcomings is to suck the life out of the story by making it so bland that the news agenda moves on as quickly as possible. This is also practical: the high degree of confidentiality that applies to employment situations makes detailed communication difficult. And in any case, people are quite capable of reading between the lines of a sudden departure without things needing to be spelled out, enabling the organisation to draw a clean line under the issue and move on without the matter being in the news for longer than necessary.    

But something rather different has happened here.  

When the CBI dismissed Danker last week its statement cited “specific complaints of workplace misconduct” and detailed a number of “serious failings” in the organisation’s culture. Its statement provided significant but incomplete levels of detail not just about Danker, but about wider and more serious misconduct which occurred before his time in post, although it made clear that Danker was not subject to those. This drew further attention to the story, gave commentators plenty to get their teeth into and set off inevitable speculation, meaning the CBI lost control of the narrative.

Inevitably – with little left to lose – Danker fought back.  On Twitter last week, and in a prominent BBC interview this week, he apologised for missteps but argued he had been made “the fall guy” and his reputation “destroyed” because of the handling of the matter, specifically the linking of his dismissal to the wider issues. This in turn drew further comment from the CBI’s president. 

And so the mess at the CBI remains firmly in the news. 

The CBI would certainly have known that its approach would result in speculation, further questions, and a fightback from Danker. Clearly it is prepared to pay the price of a significant short-term reputational hit to keep pursuing its strategy.  

The intriguing thing therefore is: why did the CBI feel this approach was better than the more usual one, which could have shut the story down sooner, even if not immediately? Is there something else going on? Perhaps in time we will all look back and agree that they did the right thing.

We will reserve judgement for now. Just because a crisis management strategy appears to be backfiring, with media accusing you of a ‘PR blunder’ and commentators questioning your actions, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you chose the wrong path. Click here to enter text.Perhaps all will become clear in the near future. 

Either way, it remains the case that a crisis strategy may sometimes mean you have to accept short-term pain for long-term gain – but such a high-risk approach cannot be undertaken lightly.

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