They say hindsight is 20/20, but Desmond's decision to cite "deep-seated cultural issues" as the cause of SMRT's woes was a big mistake. In crisis communications, the objective is to reduce or de-link stakeholders attribution of culpability to the organization in the 3 factors. As the CEO, the proverbial buck stops with him and citing cultural issues only served to reinforce the point that Desmond is fully responsible for everything that is happening at SMRT.
In our opinion, SMRT would have managed this crisis better if they had focused their messages on reducing attribution in the factors of locus of control, predictability, and controllability. In the case of the flooding, this could have been done by emphasizing the multiple control measures, system redundancies and layers of checks. Hence, the failure was not something management could reasonably be expected to foresee or prevent (lack of predictability and controllability). As for the collision, we understand that Thales is the vendor in charge of upgrading the signaling system. Thus, while SMRT cannot shirk responsibility, it should share the failure with Thales. In this incident, the objective should have been to reduce public perception of SMRT's locus of control. Having said all this, Desmond Kuek's comment about deep-seated cultural issues will negate any efforts to stem the tide against him.
To be honest, crisis communications is more art than science. This, however, does not mean that science has no place in crisis communications.
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