Unexpectedly Intriguing!
June 6, 2005

Perhaps the hardest thing to do in management is to manage through a crisis. The crisis could be anything - literally. Your fast-food restaurant could be the victim of a criminal conspiracy that damages its reputation and its business. Your company's CFO might be involved in criminal activity involving a federal investigation. Then again, you might have some explaining to do when the public discovers that your solution to disposing unwanted birds at your chicken farm involves building a crocodile farm next door.

Crises like the ones mentioned above have the ability to shake the trust that your company's customers, suppliers, employees and other stakeholders have in your company. As a manager in this situation, you may expect to find yourself drawn away from running the day-to-day operations of your business in order to deal with the crisis forced upon you on two levels - one level involving the particulars of the crisis itself and another level that must provide leadership for all those who have a personal stake in the success of your company.

So, what do you do? Aside from continuing to run the business, you will also need to rebuild the confidence of everyone who might be potentially impacted as a result of the crisis your company is undergoing. Emmett Seaborn of the Human Resource service consulting company Towers Perrin has outlined a 12-step crisis communication plan for re-establishing trust with a company's stakeholders (via BusinessTrainingMedia.com):

  1. Get your leaders in front of people. Let your people see leaders visibly handling the issue with candor, credibility, and concern.
  2. Help your leaders avoid the spin. People will quickly see through any effort to shade the facts.
  3. Tell all the news you have—even bad news. Save the time-release strategy for another time. Tell everything you know so that employees have little room to jump to their own conclusions.
  4. Connect with all stakeholders. Communicate with all your constituencies, especially employees.
  5. Reach beyond the media. Don’t just send a letter to employees, or let news reports do the talking for the company. Send flesh-and-blood humans to talk with employees about their concerns.
  6. Offer the opportunity for dialogue. The translation and interpretation of messages happens through dialogue and demonstration, not by reading memos.
  7. Balance high tech with high touch. Computers are great for fast communication, but they don’t replace in-person conversation and discussion.
  8. Listen to your people. Ask how they are responding to the bad news and what questions they might have. The process doesn’t have to be formal. Just making the effort sends a positive message.
  9. Communicate and involve more, not less. Don’t disappear. Avoid the natural reflex to clamp down when people most need to hear from you. When it feels like you’ve told your story over and over, you’ll know you’re on target.
  10. Remind people of the fundamentals. Repeat, repeat, repeat why you are in business, how the business works, what the business needs to achieve, and how employees can contribute.
  11. Help people see their roles. Communicate the business goals and the employee’s role in achieving them. Be clear about the rewards that will come from that effort.
  12. Ask people to move on. Limit the permission to whine. Once you have communicated openly and thoroughly, ask people to move on. There is a point when an organization must stop focusing on crises and begin to focus again on serving customers, making money, and creating value for shareholders.

The best time to craft your company's crisis communication plan is long before you have crisis that requires it. Having an effective crisis communication plan can make a huge difference in your company's ability to recover from its ordeals. By reinforcing your business' key relationships at a time of crisis, you are building the foundations for your company's future success after the crisis has passed.


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