Be pre­pared for when a cri­sis hits

The Hamilton Spectator - - Business - JAY ROBB @jay­robb serves as di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Mo­hawk Col­lege, lives in Hamil­ton and has re­viewed business books for the Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor since 1999.

The an­swer to the ques­tion “can peo­ple re­ally be that stupid?” is al­ways yes.

I keep this re­minder in a frame be­side my phone at work. You may want to get one, too.

Even if your or­ga­ni­za­tion is blessed and loaded with re­ally smart peo­ple, it takes just one em­ployee to ig­nite a cri­sis by say­ing or do­ing some­thing il­le­gal, un­eth­i­cal, im­moral or wildly in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

You should also as­sume it’s been cap­tured on video. It’s one of the rules in a new book “Cri­sis Ready: Build­ing an In­vin­ci­ble Brand in an Un­cer­tain World” by cri­sis man­age­ment ex­pert Melissa Agnes.

The world watched a dazed and blood­ied Dr. David Dao get dragged off an over­booked flight so a United Air­lines crew mem­ber could take his seat. We saw an Uber driver get be­rated by former CEO Travis Kalan­ick. And we lost our ap­petite over a video of two Domino’s Pizza work­ers who grossly vi­o­lated ev­ery imag­in­able health code stan­dard.

“We got blind­sided by two idiots with a video cam­era and an aw­ful idea,” a Domino’s spokesper­son told the New York Times. “Even peo­ple who’ve been with us as loyal cus­tomers for 10, 15, 20 years, peo­ple are sec­ond-guess­ing their re­la­tion­ship with Domino’s, and that’s not fair.”

It may not be fair but it’s the re­al­ity for ev­ery or­ga­ni­za­tion.

When a video goes vi­ral and spawns a cri­sis, there are eight ex­pec­ta­tions you must im­me­di­ately meet if your or­ga­ni­za­tion has any shot at min­i­miz­ing the fi­nan­cial and rep­u­ta­tional hit.

It took United Air­lines two days to is­sue a pub­lic apol­ogy. In those two days, the air­line’s mar­ket cap­i­tal­iza­tion fell by $1.4 bil­lion in pre-mar­ket trad­ing.

No­tify your key stake­hold­ers im­me­di­ately and di­rectly. If they mat­ter to your or­ga­ni­za­tion, they need to hear the bad news from you first and not through the me­dia or so­cial me­dia.

Be trans­par­ent. Your at­tempt- ed coverup will be worse than the crime. “A mis­take can be for­given. The ap­pear­ance of a coverup will not be,” says Agnes.

De­liver timely, con­sis­tent com­mu­ni­ca­tion. “The longer you wait to com­mu­ni­cate in a cri­sis, the more risk there is of the cri­sis spi­ralling out of con­trol, and the more you risk los­ing trust and cred­i­bil­ity.”

Lis­ten and val­i­date feel­ings and emo­tions. In a cri­sis, emo­tion will al­ways over­power rea­son. “If you want your mes­sage to be heard by emo­tional peo­ple, they need to feel as though you truly care about them, the sit­u­a­tion, and its con­se­quences.”

En­gage in two-way com­mu­ni­ca­tion. “Gone are the days when you could de­liver your state­ment, turn around, walk away, and go back to manag­ing the in­ci­dent be­hind the scenes.” In a cri­sis, we’ll be on so­cial me­dia, ex­pect­ing real-time di­a­logue.

Com­mu­ni­cate as a hu­man and not as a lawyer or a logo. Yes, you’ll need a le­gal strat­egy to deal with a cri­sis, but, Agnes says, it can’t be the pub­lic face of your re­sponse. Never leave stake­hold­ers with the im­pres­sion that cov­er­ing your le­gal li­a­bil­ity is your No. 1 pri­or­ity.

An­swer the most per­ti­nent and press­ing ques­tions. “The longer you take to give peo­ple the an­swers to their pri­mary con­cerns, the more frustration and loss of trust you will ex­pe­ri­ence against your or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Hold your­self ac­count­able and re­spon­si­ble. Prove that you’re se­ri­ous about right­ing wrongs and com­mit­ted to change. “Peo­ple aren’t fooled by mean­ing­less words, no mat­ter how good they may sound.”

It’s no longer good enough to just have a cri­sis man­age­ment plan, says Agnes. “It used to be that or­ga­ni­za­tions — the smart ones, any­way — would cre­ate a cri­sis man­age­ment plan, store it on a shelf or in a file, and rest as­sured that if a cri­sis were to strike they would be ready, as they had a plan just wait­ing to be ac­ti­vated. To­day, choos­ing to rely on a cri­sis man­age­ment plan is no longer suf­fi­cient. In fact, it puts you at a dis­ad­van­tage.”

Instead what you need is an or­ga­ni­za­tion-wide and deep­rooted cul­ture where your peo­ple are taught to mit­i­gate risks, meet ex­pec­ta­tions and make smart de­ci­sions in real time.

“Cri­sis man­age­ment isn’t a lin­ear strat­egy,” says Agnes. “Un­fore­see­able, un­ex­pected de­vel­op­ments will oc­cur, some­times am­pli­fy­ing the chal­lenges and other times light­en­ing the load. You want to get your team to a level of pre­pared­ness that is in­stinc­tive, rather than solely be­ing depen­dent on a lin­ear plan that can­not pos­si­bly ac­count for all the vari­a­tions, bumps and turns that may present them­selves.”

Agnes shows how to get a cri­sis ready pro­gram in place be­fore you get the call about some­one be­hav­ing badly and putting your or­ga­ni­za­tion’s rep­u­ta­tion at risk.

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