How the Chilean incident response applies to your job

Surely, you are familiar with the miners in Chile who have been trapped underground for the past 2 months and are hopefully coming back to the surface later today?

Well, one thing that has really stood out to me, is how this incident has been handled. What I mean is, in recent memory, when a company messes up, their default reaction is to close off communication and try to control the conversation. This anti-pattern never works – and almost always has the opposite affect. Look at the BP Gulf disaster, for example. All that did was built mistrust and gave everyone a place to focus their anger.

Now, in Chile, they took the opposite approach. They are were very candid and upfront with the media, they gave the media unfettered access, they communicate regularly (daily, sometimes several times per day) on the status. Even further, they are very vocal about what they are doing. Today on CNN, I saw that they even went into detail about the clothes and sunglasses they will give the miners to protect their eyes from the bright light. They consulted with NASA on how the miners might be affected after they come back from isolation (kind of like how astronauts do), etc.

One other fantastic thing they consistently did, was to “under-promise and over-deliver”. They said it was going to take until Christmas to get the miners out. They are way ahead of schedule. When they got within a few hundred feet of the miners, they said it would take a week – again they are way ahead of schedule. This afternoon, they said all the miners will be out by Thursday, when in reality they should all be out by like Wednesday morning. In the media and the public eye, this has created such a positive opinion of the company, as being very competent because they are done early each time. This says something about the idea of always over-estimating.

The point is, and the lesson to be learned, is that they come across very open about the approach they are taking, and they’ve done a tremendous job of communicating what they are doing, and they consistently under-promised and over-delivered. Why is this this important? Well consider that something goes wrong today, God-forbid. Because of how open the communication has been, I doubt many people or the media would particularly blame the mining company. Instead, the story would be about the human tragedy. This is opposed to something like how BP handled their situation. People IMMEDIATELY had a place to focus their blame when anything went wrong. Conversely, if all goes well, the company has come across as being very extremely competent, diligent, and effective. Regardless of if there was negligence or wrong-doing which caused this problem, they have handled the incident about as well as is possible, in my opinion.

So my point is, there is something to be learned here. When you have a production outage at work, it can only help you to communicate, even over-communicate what is going on. Give estimates that are generous and leave room for mistakes so that you can definitely meet or beat the deadlines. In the end, that really helps build trust between your organization and it’s users, which is always a good thing…

Posted in Professional Development, Uncategorized
2 comments on “How the Chilean incident response applies to your job
  1. mikehatz says:

    Good posting re: communication. Borrowing from Mr. Scott’s engineering philosophy can help too. “Cap’n I can’t have the warp drives rebooted until 17:00” and of course, he is done at 15:00 and the “nemesis du jour” gets wtfpwn3d!

    I wonder if the other factor to consider on the BP / Haliburton / etc. finger pointing is the fact that *zillions* of dollars hang in the balance between wrongful death lawsuits, the Gulf being thrashed for decades, etc?


  2. Rob Seder says:

    True – but if you consider “we’re screwed, anyhow”, I wonder what the dollar value is on public opinion? In other words, there isn’t a person in the U.S. that doesn’t have feelings about the Gulf disaster. So, if I’m on one of those juries, I’m starting with a strong prejudice. There’s not a sane jury in this country that would have any compassion or pity for that company. There is some dollar value associated with that, although it’s probably tough or impossible to calculate.

    Even if they did need to keep certain things under wraps, for legal/financial reasons – there are still tons of things they COULD have done to better their image. For example, give daily briefings of what they are doing. I remember on CNN, they had to go out of their way to find someone to talk to, to get a status, and several days would pass between updates. Those updates would just be vague with something like “We’re workin’ on it, don’t worry about it”

    So yeah, I think the BP disaster is different because there was a LOT of money at stake, but in our smaller worlds, I think a lot can be learned by the incident response of both of those disasters!


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