The CEO who leaves unexpectedly. The earnings disclosure that surprises. The sexual harassment claim that comes out of the blue. The VC funding that isn’t banked. The major customer that leaves your company’s fold and goes to your beaming competitor. The company founder who says something inappropriate and gets quoted. The product that doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, triggering irate customers in the blogosphere.
Crises are all around us. Is your company prepared to handle one?
Tip # 1 – have a crisis plan ready to go. Rather than scurrying about when a crisis hits, it makes a lot more sense to have a game plan in place ahead of time. Start by determining what can happen (make lists of scenarios) and then assume it will. Crises fall into two categories: (1) uncontrolled crises (fire, employee injury, deaths) and (2) controlled crises (layoffs, takeovers, major product changes). Decide what you will need to do; frame the action items. Create a crisis portfolio and think through what events could set them off. Align the action you will take with the crisis level. When the crisis hits, work the plan.
Tip # 2 – build the crisis support infrastructure. Assign authority and responsibility ahead of time. Build the crisis response team; get an adequate number of professionals involved. Prepare content. Identify all your organization’s publics, not just the obvious ones. Figure out how and where you’ll establish information centers. Identify the chain of communication for crisis notification. Predetermine the way you’ll assemble the team. Constantly train the team by simulating various crises; practice the plan once or twice a year and modify as needed; change scenarios each time. Look for things that don’t work; refine the process.
Tip # 3 – speak with one voice. When a crisis hits, you can’t have 10 different people running around speaking on behalf of the company. This is a formula for a damaged reputation. Instead, identify one central spokesperson – at the highest possible level – and make certain this individual has the knowledge, sensitivity, interpersonal skills, authority and public demeanor to speak on your company’s behalf. Make sure this person is very accessible. Strive for consistency in what is said and how it is said. Make sure there’s a clear chain of command.
Tip # 4 – be prepared before you talk. Invest the time – proactively - to anticipate key questions before they get asked. Know the details. Understand what you can, and cannot, say. Deal honestly with all your publics, but only divulge what’s required. Don’t volunteer damaging information. Only use confirmed facts; don’t speculate.
Tip # 5 – remember social media. Twitter is a phenomenal real-time communication channel, and a great way to keep people informed, make alerts and be continually proactive. Facebook is an excellent two-way medium to monitor what people are thinking and post frequent updates from your company.
Tip # 6 – be there. When a crisis strikes, you can’t maneuver your way through it in your office. Get out there. Be at the scene. Be visible and available. Don’t allow information voids; keep communication flowing. Never surprise anyone. Deal with rumors quickly. Minimize speculation.
Tip # 7 – fall on your sword. This is the # 1 mistake companies, organizations and even venerable institutions consistently make… despite decades of “how not to do it” examples. Don’t fall into this trap because it’s the most debilitating of all. Nothing damages a reputation more quickly than stalling, deceit and bamboozling. Acknowledge the problem. Express concern. Take responsibility. Express a sincere desire to cooperate with others to solve the problem. Be human.
Tip # 8 – protect the record. Monitor everything that’s said and written including social media. Have a system in place to correct incorrect facts to avoid recirculation of erroneous information. Make sure your organization gets public credit for positive actions taken to address the crisis.
Tip # 9 – keep reading the situation. If a crisis becomes extended, continually measure changes in public opinion. This real-time monitoring will enable you to modify your crisis plan and communication as needed.
Tip # 10 – don’t go quiet. If nothing new has occurred, don’t fall into a black hole. Keep communicating even if the status quo is unchanged. Be proactive in your communication. Always be concerned about the reputation of your company, organization or institution.