Unclear Policies Lead to Crisis for Cemetery and Grieving Family

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    Leaving room for confusion is a crisis management mistake

    Not having clear policies, and training your employees on what to do when a situation falls “outside the box” can create a need for crisis management. A historic Cincinnati cemetery found itself in a pickle after initially allowing, then removing, a headstone featuring a seven foot tall depiction of SpongeBob SquarePants. PRDaily’s Matt Wilson shared more info on the situation:

    The family of Iraq war veteran Kimberly Walker has gone public with its story of the cemetery’s decision to remove her headstone, which depicts her favorite cartoon character, SpongeBob, in an Army uniform with Walker’s name and rank.

    The headstone went up Oct. 10, eight months after Walker, 28, was found killed in a Colorado hotel room. A day later, the family says, the cemetery opted to take it down along with one very similar to it, placed for Walker’s living twin sister, despite giving prior approval to the designs.

    The cemetery’s president has reportedly told USA Today simply, “We’ve decided that they aren’t appropriate for our historic cemetery and they can’t be displayed here.”

    Difficult situation, right? Already in the article comments PRDaily readers are stating they would be upset if they came across this gravestone near the resting place of their loved ones, and if Spring Grove’s reputation really is as a traditional, historic cemetery then they are risking major stakeholder upheaval should they allow SpongeBob to stay. On the other hand, they agreed to the gravestone, and even though reports are Walker’s family will be reimbursed there’s likely a lot of emotional investment that simply can’t be refunded. While we can’t say what the solution will be, either way it’s going to cost the cemetery.

    How do you avoid a similar situation? When it comes to policy, be it retail returns or cemetery gravestone styles, you need to have established, written policies which explain exactly what is and is not allowed. Not only that, but your employees also need to be trained (and regularly re-trained) to follow said guidelines. Now, blindly adhering to guidelines without considering situational specifics can be dangerous as well, which is why you need to ensure each and every person who represents your organization understands how to politely pass a stakeholder up the chain should they have an outside-the-box request.

    Having a contrast between what an employee says and what the rules actually are is a slippery slope that often leads to crisis. Establish clear guidelines, train religiously, and avoid this pitfall altogether.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]