Chances are incredibly high that your company is going to experience a crisis of some kind in the next year. It’s how you handle that crisis which will likely determine whether that crisis builds or seriously damages your company.
As 90 percent of a crisis response is communication, I would suggest that you think about the need to respond in real-time, as Robert Scoble suggested when he was quoted in Fast Company when he said “Reputations are created and destroyed online in the speed of 140 characters.” He obviously referred to Twitter and the common phrase today that reputation can be created (Susan Boyle) and destroyed overnight (Bernie Madoff). (Remember the plane landing in the Hudson river. Ordinary people were tweeting pictures and video footage to the networks before the Media actually got there).
A crisis can strike a Business at any time; and during this crisis a Company’s image and reputation can be damaged significantly. Often, this can be a result of not responding adequately to media and other stakeholder enquiries. Understanding what Communication challenges may arise during a crisis or before one occurs is therefore critical.
In the book Real-Time Marketing & PR, David Meerman Scott teaches how to use how to use time and urgency to gain huge competitive advantage, and I quote:
‘In a world where speed and agility are now essential to success, most organizations still operate slowly and deliberately, cementing each step months in advance, responding to new developments with careful but time-consuming processes.The Internet has fundamentally changed the pace of business, compressing time and rewarding speed.Your accustomed methods and processes may be already fatally out of sync with the world around you. The narrative of your business now unfolds, minute-by-minute, in real time. And it’s no longer guided by the mass media your ad budget can buy.’
Speed is thus of the essence. That’s why it is vital that you develop a crisis communications and management plan or kit that prepares you in advance for this eventuality. This communication kit should assist your organisation to respond timeously and promptly to crisis situations.
Here’s a starter list of eight items that should be included in any crisis communications kit:
1. A list of the members of the crisis management team, which should include, at minimum, the CEO, a trusted assistant/top manager from the CEO’s office, heads of each department, Investor Relations Officer details, public relations and marketing team members, legal and security. In case of actual crisis, this team will be focused down to the group applicable to that specific crisis.
2. Contact information for key officers, spokespeople, and crisis management team members including company and personal phone numbers, email addresses, cell numbers, pagers, faxes, instant message handles, Twitter addresses, even spouse’s cell numbers, should the person be inaccessible by other means.
With the astute use of technology today, the above contact details could be kept in online contact databases like GIST, in Google Contacts or even in Dropbox. I keep this information in all 3 formats and have access to it via my smartphone.
3. Fact sheets on the company, each division, each physical location, and each product offered.
These should be in camera-ready condition, plus available on a disk in a generally-accepted word processor format (Microsoft Word) so they can be revised and printed out if necessary on a computer external to your facilities. Photos should also be included.
4. Profiles and biographies for each key manager in your company, again in camera-ready condition and on disk.
5. Copies of your company, division and product logos, your press release format and the scanned in signature of your CEO on disk in a format that works on your internal word processing program (plus one in Microsoft Word in case you have to work on a computer that isn’t tied to your network.)
6. Pre-written scripts answering key questions that you have generated through your crisis scenario analysis. Included in these scripts should be the words you use to say “we don’t have that information yet, but will let you know as soon as it becomes available.”
7. Contact information for each of your key media contacts both locally, nationally, and if appropriate, key financial press and analysts. Contact information for your appropriate stakeholders like suppliers, political, regulatory, and union leaders should also be included. Don’t be afraid to go overboard here – if you have an oil spill, your CEO will probably want to call not only the Media, but also selected Government representatives.
8. Flowcharts of the Protocols & Procedures to be followed. These will differ depending on the type of crisis. For instance, in the event of death, it is vital that the Department of Labour be informed, forthwith according to the Occupational Heath & Safety Act. Obviously you first want to inform management. Then, the authorities. In the case of a fire, there may be other communication protocols to be followed. Flowcharts can help to speed up decision making.
Where & Who should keep the Toolkit
It’s important for your crisis communications kit to not only be duplicated in some offsite location, but to also include information, disks, graphics, computer files, photos, etc. that are normally readily at your fingertips in your office. These days you can also keep it in the cloud. Alternatively this information, should be in a password controlled format on your website/intranet.
I once knew the Crisis Manager of a Rail organisation. She kept the copy of her plan at home, at the office and in her car. Just in case.
I strongly recommend that you assemble this kit shortly. It will be one of the best insurance policies that you can have on hand once a crisis begins. Remember time is of the essence.
For more information on crisis management and communications, I recommend that you check out my various blog posts.
Deloitte, the business advisory firm, has developed a new smartphone application, Bamboo, to help businesses handle disasters and crises. The new application is the first one of its kind in this field and is not reliant on mobile network connectivity to work.
The smartphone application stores up-to-date disaster management procedures and action-plans in an interactive and user friendly way on employees’ mobile devices, such as the Blackberry or iPhone.
- Convenient access to your organisation’s crisis management, business continuity or IT disaster recovery plan, when you need it most
- Access to latest contact details by integrating with an organisation’s existing HR and Business Continuity Management systems
- Push technology to deliver up-to-date information which is stored locally on employees’ handsets
- Ability to activate teams and understand individual roles during an incident
- Easy deployment of updated or new incident management procedures and actions through a central server and software
- Auditing and action-tracking for post-incident debriefs
- Easy access to critical information to improve management response times
- Ability to send notification alerts about an incident to all staff.
Rick Cudworth, head of resilience and testing at Deloitte said: “Recent tragic events around the world continue to highlight the importance of an effective and swift incident response. Reacting quickly minimises the potential impact of a disaster on an organisation. Deloitte created Bamboo to simplify this process for both our employees and our clients.
“Clients have asked us to help them access their essential information and the technology to use it effectively. In recent incidents they found plans were out-of-date, contact details were incorrect and the telecommunications network suffered failures making voice and data communications difficult.
“During an incident, the majority of employees take only their personal belongings with them, such as wallets, keys and, of course, their mobile phones. With Bamboo, staff will now be able to access their individual action plans, regardless of location or mobile network connectivity. Management will now be able to communicate with their employees immediately to inform them of the incident, verify their safety and location, and communicate necessary actions and contact details – all via their handsets.”
Although I have not had the opportunity to use this program in action, it is in line with the protocols I always recommend in my Crisis Management workshops.
One other method that you can use in the interim until your organisation decides to use a dedicated application, is to ensure that an updated contact list and flow chart of actions to be taken, is created and put in a Dropbox application. Then, all you have to do is ensure that managers have Dropbox installed on their phones.
At least that will be a start. Other than that, make sure that you keep a copy of your crisis plan – in your car, filing cabinet and at home.
Whether you are implementing new systems, redesigning business processes, or transforming organization structures through downsizing and M&A, effective communication is absolutely critical.
A former colleague used to write, “Communication is more than the tangible vehicles and tools that convey information; it is the glue that binds internal and external stakeholders to your vision, mission, goals and activities. Effective communication engages the hearts and minds of all stakeholders.”
With regards to a change process, the objective of these communications is to move your target audiences along the following continuum with the stated effects:
- Awareness – individuals are conscious of the change
- Understanding – individuals have a shared meaning of the change
- Acceptance – individuals internalize the change and have a more favourable outlook
- Alignment – individuals provide appropriate levels of support for the change
- Commitment – individuals begin to claim responsibility and ownership for the change
This is only achieved by developing a communication strategy that utilizes multiple communication vehicles and delivery channels throughout the course of the change process. Most importantly, these communications must build upon each other to share a bit more of the story as it unfolds. It is not sufficient to make a global announcement the day before or the day the change occurs.
Here is a framework to make it easy for leaders to remember as they communicate direction to the teams they lead – The 7 P’s of High Performance:
Perspective – the big picture – the environment, market, competitors, customers needs, technology – an overview from 30,000 feet.
Problem – what is threatening (or wrong) with the current situation – what is not working as well as it needs to – where would we likely end up if we did nothing.
Purpose – what are we attempting to accomplish stated in both objective and subjective terms – what are our goals for this initiative/change process.
Principles – criteria (or critical success factors) we have used in our thinking process to insure success – the relevant guidelines we have applied.
Plan – what is our “go forward” proposition we believe will move us in the right direction – how the future will look different – how things will be different for people.
Process – an update on what steps have taken place to date – plus the next steps we contemplate in conjunction with the next P.
Participation – what necessary and important role for involvement we see for the team – stated as in :invitation” – and creating the opening for involvement from all players needed for success.
Here are some other resources and thoughts:
From the book “Nameless Organizational Change,” by Glen-Allen Meyer. In a nutshell:
- Organizations market their products and services
- Leaders (and change agents) know how to market
- Changes are given names (e.g. “Super teams 2010”)
- Named changes are hyped and marketed throughout the organization – We see this often in South Africa where campaigns have an ethnic name
- In the marketplace outside of the organization, people can say “no” to marketed products and services they do not want.
- Inside the workplace, people cannot easily say “no” to the changes that are marketed “at them”
- My experience is that most change “communication plans” are, in fact, marketing plans
- Since they cannot say “no” to marketed change, dissonance is established in the minds, psyches, and beings of people who want to say “no” but who know that, in some way, they must comply
- In addition to genuine change, this dissonance produces stress and resistance during change
- Stress and resistance to programmatic, marketed organization change causes signs of dysfunction during major change including absenteeism, turnover, accidents, tardiness and more
- These signs of dysfunction add cost and time to major change.
The “nameless” approach helps leaders implement change without the hype and without the resistance produced by marketed (i.e. “communicated”) change. A model for nameless change is presented in the book including the step-by-step process by which the change is “seeded” and “harvested” in the organization instead of being driven by complex and “slick” change marketing plans.
In short, I believe that people at work today are far savvier “consumers” of change than were their predecessors of even ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago. People “object” with the “flavour-of-the-month” objection because they’re rather well used to the methods of change being promulgated by many management gurus.
I’ve found the book ‘Communicating Change: Winning Employee Support for New Business Goals’ by TJ & Sandar Larkin http://amzn.to/a9261T very helpful but for my money Kotter’s Leading Change Book http://amzn.to/ckQtMN) is the best.
From Kotter’s principles, one can readily derive excellent models and specific instruments for promoting and monitoring change management. For a short version, there is his classic 1995 Harvard Business Review article, “Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” which cites insufficient communication as a chief cause of failed change management.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop on Reputation Risk and the Consumer Protection Act at a conference held at the Indaba Hotel in Fourways, Johannesburg by the Intelligence Transfer Centre (http://www.intelligencetransferc.co.za/).
Not wanting to overdo the legalities of the Act itself (since that was covered by other speakers) I focused on the implications of this Act and its potential impact on the reputation of an organisation.
Since the audience consisted of mainly legal advisers, I focused on the court of legal opinion versus the court of public opinion.
What struck me in the interaction with the audience was the disconnect between the two. Obviously this act brings a number of difficulties to the table, but it seemed that the focus by companies is minimum legal compliance, i.e doing only what is necessary in terms of the specifications of this Act.
The audience found it interesting when I showed them why the Act was promulgated in the first place, namely that it was because companies paid lip service to the reasonable expectations of the consumer stakeholder. The Act now codifies basic rights such as the right to safety, the right to not be taken unduly advantage of and so on.
In my presentation I also focused on the importance of having proper and tested product recall procedures, adequate product labelling, communicating in a crisis situation and I showed them how lack of compliance with this Act could be equated with the lack of commitment to show that you care about the consumer, could lead to public naming & shaming on top of penalties, an increase in lack of trust, a damaged Reputation and ultimately lead to an increase in unnecessary cost.
I also emphasised the point that an organisation will have to address the thinking processes in the company through increased awareness training of this Act and Consumer focused thinking training sessions.
What got me though, was the lack of understanding and preparation amongst the audience when I gave them a simple exercise to do:
Think about communicating about a defect to consumers. What would you need to have in place?
Granted the audience were mainly legal advisers, but they did not know where to start. They did not know where a strategic communications plan would start or end. I just hope that they do have skilled PR or Communications personnel in their companies, otherwise they will find themselves in a pickle over their lack of adequate communication when the time comes.
Ultimately this Act does pose Reputation Risk in that a lack of compliance or adherence to public opinion demands will raise questions about the ethics, values and practices in an organization.
In 2010 I will be assisting companies with this compliance by facilitating in –house workshops on the importance of the Consumer Protection Act. This compliance needs to be viewed as part of the Stakeholder Management processes of a company and should not just be seen as a Compliance issue to be handled by the Compliance Officer or Legal Advisers.
Advertisement: I do offer a Crisis Manager Toolkit that can be used by companies as part of their preparation for product recalls and other incidents. See https://deonbinneman.wordpress.com/toolkits/ for more information or contact me.