The article was first published on LinkedIn here.
If you accept on the day prior to embarking on your entrepreneurial journey that you will be facing a range of crisis along the journey, tiding over which would lead you to success, you would be creating a healthy foundation for an effective response to any future crisis.
The acceptance happens at the subconscious level. But it still is a communication – with your own self. Believe it or not, that is the first crisis communication exercise that you undertake.
That, luckily, is also the first lesson in crisis communication: ANTICIPATION of crisis and being proactive about it is the absolute key towards executing a successful – read ‘easy to understand and effective’ – crisis communication.
The real advantage lies not only in the fact that you would be better prepared to address the crisis situation but also in the possibility that you – by means of pre-empting it – might even be able to prevent the crisis from raising its head in the first place. That would be a magnificent example of crisis management by means of having an early crisis communication within the core team of any organisation.
That core team may or may not have communication experts. If not, then it is imperative to make sure that the designated communication team members – or at least the communication leadership – is made a part of all the (anticipatory) crisis management team meetings.
A complete involvement in and UNDERSTANDING of the issue and the approach towards managing the crisis – whether anticipated or existing – would allow the communication team to be better equipped while DEVISING the crisis communication message, while also TRAINING better the eventual external or public/partners facing spokespersons.
From there on, it is a matter of ESTABLISHING systems for notifying the message (‘communication’) to the desired stakeholders – and for MONITORING the effectiveness of the notifications. The monitoring would involve gauging responses to the communication and, after interpreting the responses, making adjustments to both the message and the delivery methods and modes for greater efficacy of crisis communication.
Sometimes, the crisis does not blow up into something massive. It is always beneficial to, therefore, study the nature of the crisis carefully, as it unfolds. That period, when things are in a flux, is generally called ‘The Critical Hour’. The ‘hour’ demands that the crisis communication team does not go overboard with their messages – but develop and release, what is called, ‘holding statements’.
The beautiful thing about holding statements is that they can be devised right at the first (‘anticipation’) stage itself. Further, they are also common sense statements. Here are a couple of examples:
“The situation is evolving, and we will keep everyone updated via our website and social media networks as we receive more information.”
“We are both investigating the incident and cooperating with the authorities.”
Not too difficult, eh? And yet, so many – just so many – organizations don’t do even this bit.
Talking of simple things, well, it goes without saying that holding statements have a life. A minute longer than the ideal (decided, unfortunately, entirely by the recipients) can open up another battlefront for the team – that of public ire about the team’s ‘professionalism’ etc.
Unlike the holding statements, actual crisis communication cannot be developed in advance. No one can ever predict completely what turn a crisis might take the next hour. Therefore it is mandatory for the entire crisis management team to be at the top of the awareness about the developing crisis situation and keep monitoring, enhancing crisis communication efforts.
Unless absolutely impossible (undesirable), transparency and continuous notifications is the key. There haven’t been too many instances in the history of the human race of people complaining of too much communication about a developing crisis.
Finally, all of the above would be futile if the team doesn’t learn from the crisis – and its management. POST-CRISIS ANALYSIS would reveal that there is no such thing as ‘it won’t happen to me’ or ‘I’ve got everything covered’. No, you can’t have everything covered at all times, and yes, it could happen to you.
The key takeaways of the analysis should be the performance of the crisis communication strategy both from the concept and execution aspect, and the performance of the crisis management team. A good appraisal should be good for an immediate reward for the personnel. A bad one should work as a good lesson in crisis communication management.