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Thomas Cook's crisis management review: vital reading for crisis managers

November 25, 2015 by Jonathan Hemus

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Justin King’s report into the tragedy in Corfu which caused so many challenges for Thomas Cook over recent years outlined a series of recommendations for crisis management training and crisis management planning

I commend Thomas Cook for commissioning this independent report: it indicates an organisation which is committed to learning and changing in order to prevent further crises. This is an essential - but all too frequently ignored - element of effective crisis management planning.

Crisis management training

But this is not just a report for Thomas Cook: it makes important recommendations for crisis management training and preparedness which should be considered and acted upon by other organisations. Anyone responsible for crisis or reputation management should read the report in full, but here are five insights and recommendations which caught my eye:

  • The need to balance legal advice against staying true to the essence of what an organisation stands for: Justin King describes how the weight of legal implications influenced Thomas Cook to make decisions which were mis-aligned with its underlying culture and values 
  • The importance of making health and safety (and indeed crisis management) everyone's responsibility: Justin King observed a sense in the business that the “health and safety teams ‘do’ health and safety” (whereas in fact, it needs to be everyone’s responsibility)
  • A culture and processes which allow those in the front line to voice their concerns: the report notes the need for a confidential whistleblowing line for colleagues and suppliers to raise any concerns about health and safety
  • The benefit of empowering customer facing staff to solve problems before they become crises: Justin King talks about the critical need to empower destination teams to solve issues for customers at first contact
  • The critical importance of regular crisis management training and planning  

Crisis management lessons

Thomas Cook has recognised that it could have managed the Corfu tragedy better and I applaud them for their determination to learn and prevent future incidents.

But the implications of the report must go beyond Thomas Cook: as Kamal Ahmed, the BBC's business editor said: "every chief executive should read Mr King's report".

It's advice which all organisations who are truly committed to crisis management should act upon.