Culture and knee jerk reactions to crisis

In a crisis, the cultural assumptions of staff often play a role in shaping their knee jerk, initial  reactions.

Lets’s look at the following case and see how culture impacts the initial reaction of Fred from the USA, Som from Thailand, Humi from Israel, and Mitsumi from Japan.

Mitsumi, the Key Account Manager for an unhappy Japanese client went straight to the CEO and stated that all business could be lost “unless we show a road map within 48 hours to the customer of corrective action”   Mitsumi knew the clients’ demands were unfair but Mitsumi sees her role as the advocate of the client whose role is to slavishly amplify customer demands because the customer is God in Japan.

An internal meeting was convened with all parties to deal with this crisis , led by Fred, the US based head of Product Delivery.

Product Manager Humi from Israel paid no heed to the “moaning” of the Key Account Manager Mitsumi. “These new product releases take time to stabilize so  let’s roll up our sleeves and start working. I’ll fly to the client site tonight and give a detailed explanation; the clients’ expectations need to be managed. Fred, please ask Mitsumi to come with me to the customer to translate exactly what I explain. ”  Humi places a premium on action, and believes in talking straight to the customer, which are very Israeli characteristics.

Fred from the US said that “an overall high level comprehensive plan” is needed-then “you can fly wherever you want, Humi”. Fred believes than plans and planning enable more control of the environment, which is a frequent American assumption.

Engineer Som from Thailand smiled during the entire meeting-her team had developed a major component and she was very embarrassed. “What are you laughing at, Som? What is so God damn funny, asked Fred. Som was smiling the Thai smile of shame.

Hans, the German PMO wanted “more detail before we “mof+ forward”. And he started delving into detail which drove the other team members to distraction. Hans believes that without details, the team cannot make proper plans or appease the fuming customer. Fred told Hans, “look at the forest Hans, not the trees”. Som smiled and Humi checked flight schedules.


One of ways to avoid situations like this is to have an apriori discussion with your team members about culture and crisis. This provides team members insight about knee jerk reactions of their peers.



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4 thoughts on “Culture and knee jerk reactions to crisis

  1. Thanks for the nice blog post. I just have one question: what is a “mof” that the German character refers to? Thanks, Lori

  2. The VW “scam” is a very good example of this. The new VW CEO from Porsche is used to details as the place where God lives. When comparing the VW knee jerk response to GM’s response subsequent to its most recent crisis re “the 264 deaths due to a hidden defect in starter assemblies of the Cruze, GM opted for a “hide and seek” strategy immersed in a tsunami of public relations initiatives and sale incentives while VW is still working through engineering details for a technical solution as it releases information one droplet at the time. For VW, precision and rigor in engineering applies to both the “lie” and to the “solution”.

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