Burrito Battle

Conflict management is essential for any company in today’s society. Conflict management plans lay out a set of steps for businesses to follow if crisis should ever strike. Although the crisis is often times out of the companies control, the actions they take in preventing and preparing for it are simply up to them.

The Proactive phase of conflict managment in communications is often preferred and majorly neglected. A proactive crisis management plan prevents conflict and has an organized system if it should arise (Wilcox 172). It seems obvious that most companies wouldn’t formulate a crisis management plan until crisis strikes. It would be wise of them to, but it’s not common.

A proactive crisis management plan would have been extremely beneficial to the company Chipotle as it endured it’s major food and viral outbreak crisis in 2015. During this outbreak, around 500 individuals were infected with norovirus or E. Coli after eating at various Chipotle restaurants across the US. Nine of these victims were hospitalized, leaving behind a wake of damage for Chipotle to clean up (Scrudder para. 6).

During the strategic phase of conflict management, industries identify issues that could lead to threats and then position themselves in a place to manage the crisis. This stage prepares to avoid any arising conflict from the incident (Wilcox 172). Unfortunately, Chipotle did not take immediate action amidst their crisis as they did not even report the outbreak to the public until a week later (Scudder para 7).

Following the strategic phase is a phase in which litigation and conflict resolution take precedence. This phase is called the reactive phase, which is a high-stress time period in which the communications team is on 24/7 duties toward the conflict resolution and any publicity efforts to support issues such as trials or legal actions (Wilcox 172). This is the point in the crisis management process when the company should be giving clear and concise information about the incident and have a plan in process to reduce the damage (Coombs Table 2).

During this period in the Chipotle crisis, the CFO Jack Hartnug stated, “Because the media likes [sic] to write sensational headlines, we can probably see when somebody sneezes that they’re going to say, ‘Ah, it’s E. coli from Chipotle’” (Scudder para 15). This was one flaw in the reactive stage from Chipotle as many found this quote to be insensitive.

The reactive phase is a very important phase in the conflict management process as it determines whether or not the company will be taking appropriate action for the issue.  Although Chipotle was slow to come around, they did finally release an apology and extensive action plan on Dec. 10, 2015 (Scudder para 18).

The final phase of the conflict management plan is the recovery phase. This is where industries begin to restore their image and reputation. This phase is where a team of professionals begin to secure a companies brand identity and figure out how to protect them from any damage cause by the conflict (Wilcox 172).

Although Chipotle took necessary measures after the discovery of the issue, they faced major set backs. Restaruant analyst Bob Derrington stated, “At Chipotle, average unit volumes have shrunk from roughly $2.5 million pre-E. coli scare to about $1.8 million” (Little para 3). There has been a significant decrease in sales for Chipotle and much damage to brand identity has been inflicted. The restaurant is hopeful that customers will forget about the incident over time (Little para 14).

It is crucial for companies to take proactive precautions in light of situations such as this. It cannot be said how the Chipotle crisis would have improved if they had taken proactive measures but it is an assumption that action would have been taken much sooner. A simple way to put it would be – having kids is always a difficult task ,but being prepared for a child makes things a bit easier amidst the chaos. Crisis is an issue that no company believes will ever happen to them; but when it strikes, it is better to be prepared than to scramble among the chaos for a solution.


Coombs, W. (2015, September 24). Crisis Management and Communications (Updated September 2014). Retrieved February 13, 2017, from http://www.instituteforpr.org/crisis-management-communications/

Little, K.(2016, October 31). One year after Chipotle’s health crisis started, the chain continues to struggle. Retrieved February 13, 2017, from http://www.cnbc.com/2016/10/31/one-year-after-chipotles-e-coli-crisis-chain-still-struggling.html

Scudder, V. (2016, April 26). In the C-Suite: Chipotle Mexican Grill’s Rise, Fall and Road to Recovery. Retrieved February 13, 2017, from http://apps.prsa.org/intelligence/TheStrategist/Articles/view/11483/1125/In_the_C_Suite_Chipotle_Mexican_Grill_s_Rise_Fall#.WKHMSxIrK34

Wilcox, D. L. (2013). Think public relations. Boston: Pearson Education Limited.


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