More coverage of Wounded Warrior Project – 3/16

I’ve seen a few more articles of substance in the last two days on the WWP board firing their CEO and COO. Will discuss three articles to see what we can learn about this fiasco and how to deal with a crisis.

Balancing act

The board is in a delicate balancing act.

The media and likely some major donors want the juicy details on why the two execs were let go. I’m interested, too.

The board needs to be careful on how much information they release because of legal exposures, HR issues, and the possibility of causing additional harm to the organization and constituents.

Think about it. My slowly developing, uniformed uninformed guess is that the ‘corporate culture’ created by the CEO is the underlying issue behind the vague ‘judgment issues’ that are mentioned as the reason for the terminations. If my long string of reading-between-the-lines assumptions are correct, then fixing that culture will require replacing a lot of the staff he hired. If that string of reasoning is on point, it would be a horrible idea to say or even hint there will be several rounds of targeted firings.

I’m actually curious about the deeper reasons for the terminations in light of the board denying the major headline accusations. “It’s time for a change” won’t work for long considering the level of media attention WWP is drawing.

Getting the board chairman in front of the camera

3/14 – CBS News – Wounded Warrior Project board chair on getting past scandal – Video at link is a five or six minute interview with WWP board chairman Anthony Odierno. You have to read between the lines to make some guesses about the real reasons for termination.

Most important thing in the video is a senior level staffer (board chair) went into the lion’s den and answered questions.

His comments were to the point and well prepared. He explained that the independent research the board did refuted the headline claims on portion of spending and conferences. Around 80% of spending is for program and 94% of the conference costs were for program activities.

Even as he was making those points, CBS continued their attack by covering the screen with a graph showing the alternative calculation of program (60% program) and the growth in conference spending from $1M to $26M.

My emotional read of their visual presentation is that CBS was calling him a liar even as he was in the middle of explaining the board’s actions. Again, that is my opinion and my emotional response while watching the interview for the first time.

On raising awareness

The interviewers gave their rehearsed questions, in particular how advertising to raise awareness can be counted as program. In one sentence he explained raising awareness, connecting Americans with returning vets, has been and will continue to be an important part of their program.

Lesson to be learned for all leaders in charities: be ready to explain your view on controversial points in one sentence.

Question for your consideration: Is your attentiveness to the challenges faced by injured vets higher now that a few years ago? Think that might be due to the every-present ads from WWP? I have not dived in to the issue to see how their accounting for advertising stacks up in light of SOP 98-2 (I won’t look up the ASC reference).

Why fire the execs?

In addition to refuting the headline claims, the board’s investigation showed opportunities to “strengthen controls over travel and expenses” (that is a near quote; I won’t watch the clip again to check the exact wording).

The board chair deflected a couple of questions asking why the board fired the CEO and COO. The only new information I drew from the cautious comments is there were some judgment issues involved. Reading between the lines on the minor comments in various news articles, I’m starting to draw my own picture of what the real issues were that drove the termination decision. My tentative read is mentioned at the top of this post.

After one interviewer proudly pointed out they talked to over 100 current and former employees, the board chair pointed out that their investigation talked to a number of current & former employees and current & former board members.

The headline financial issues are not a factor since they have been refuted, yet the board chair deflected questions about corporate culture and hinted at unnamed judgment issues.

Overall, I think that was a superb interview by the board chairman.

Terminations were announced Thursday night (about 7:30, I think) with this interview on Monday morning. To my accounting brain, that seems like a quick response. Of course, that left the news cycle a whole weekend to process things, but coverage during that weekend talked about the published comments from the board on the WWP website.

Check out the full interview to gather what info you can. Many lessons to be learned for leaders wanting to learn.

3/15 – Ruth McCambridge at Nonprofit Quarterly – Board Chair Takes Helm at Wounded Warrior – but Donors Have the Floor –  Article wonders if this will develop into another shareholder revolt, which is described as a situation when donors, constituents, and other stakeholders react to their perception that the board and senior leadership have broken trust.

Article points out the interim CEO is still a bit vague about why the two senior execs were fired. I mentioned that above.

A few sentences from a few emails

3/15 – News4Jax – Internal emails obtained after WWP firings – Someone gave reporters copies of the internal emails sent the evening of and the morning after the terminations. Three sentences from the Executive VP are quoted, which make him look quite out of touch.

I’m skeptical of a few sentences cited from a long document. Always makes me wonder what was in the rest of the document that might reverse the appearances.

More depth is provided by a named consultant who helps organizations with crisis management. The person who presumably read all the content said the attitude coming through the emails indicate the remaining senior management are blaming the messenger for bad news. He thinks the first few emails sent out hint that the two execs should not have been let go.

He said the component missing from both the emails and the interim CEOs interview on CBS is taking ownership of the issues. There isn’t an admission the organization is wrong. Also missing is repeatedly saying “I’m sorry.”

I’m curious if those emails were intended to calm the WWP staff and soften the shock. I’m curious if the tone of emails has changed since immediately after the announcement.

More lessons that can be learned

Lesson learned: always expect to see your email on the evening news or front page of the local paper.

More subtle lesson: expect to see one sentence fragment in the lead paragraph.

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