The recent explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia is bringing renewed attention to the mine’s owner, Massey Energy. Like most people, I realize that coal mining is an inherently dangerous job, and unfortunately, accidents happen. If that were only the story here, it would be sad enough.
Instead much of the attention has focused on the 3,000 plus safety violations Massey has racked up since 1995. Yet, as of April 7, the home page on the company’s Web site still proudly proclaimed that 2009 was “another record-setting year for safety.” Hard to believe. (As of today, they finally removed that article from the home page.)
In fact, the company’s statements declaring the importance of safety are in direct contrast to its record of egregious safety violations and the reports that Massey’s chairman and chief executive, Don Blankenship, allegedly told workers to ignore the orders of those who instructed them to construct support beams and ventilation shafts for safety purposes and just “run coal.” It is companies like this that give capitalism a bad name.
The Lesson To Learn
What can healthcare companies learn from this tragic incident? It’s simple. Always remember that actions speak louder than words.
No matter how many times your top executives express concerns for patient safety or piously proclaim that their mission is finding better treatments or cures for disease, if the company is rushing a drug to market before its full side effects are known, it’s a lie. If they are pushing a device through trials and suppressing negative evidence that would keep it from FDA clearance, it’s a lie. If your hospital touts patient safety, but every staff member isn’t following strict protocols to combat healthcare acquired infections, it’s a lie.
Words vs. Action
Communicators use words. Lots of words. We draft mission statements, company vision statements, key messages and yes, even positioning statements. But no amount of words can take the place of action.
Action is key to reputation. Doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason—even at the expense of short-term profits—builds positive reputations. And reputations are valuable. A good reputation adds to the bottom line and helps companies weather the storms of crisis. Just ask Massey Energy, whose stock has dropped nearly 12 percent and whose credit rating was downgraded below junk. If that’s not enough to convince you, then just ask the families of those miners in West Virginia.