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What Do You Expect Us To Do?

People need to understand what is going on; having a clear view of what is happening…

There is no shortage of examples of what to do when a crisis hits. From stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for a major product recall, to some spectacular instances of what not to do when your company is grappling with a major oil spill, there are any number of analysts, consultants and community service groups who will be happy to give you (mostly unsolicited) advice pertaining to where you went wrong, and what you should have done instead. As helpful as this may be, it comes after the fact, when you’re picking up the pieces, and the last thing you want to hear is, “But you should have done/known/seen/understood…”

There is very little point to giving advice after the damage has been done, except to have it noted in the post-event report, and hope that it will be incorporated into the next round of strategising for the organisation. What is helpful is to have a crisis communication framework and/or SOP that can kick in as soon as an event appears on the horizon. Any incident can potentially escalate into a crisis – a falling tree can damage power lines, cause a switch to trip, and plunge whole swathes of the country into darkness. Businesses never know when they will have to deal with fallout, so having crisis communication that works is one of management’s top priorities today.

Crisis communication usually refers to the technology, systems, protocols – and human resources – necessary for effective communication in the event of any incidents or crisis. Should firms be concerned about the state of their communications when they’re in crisis? Yes; it matters because the people within the organisation have to be clear about what is happening so that they can take action, and the people outside the organisation can be apprised of what is happening, so that they will know that the crisis is being managed. Crisis communication is about protecting the brand, and mitigating fallout so that business can return to normal without being extensively and expensively disrupted.

People need to understand what is going on; having a clear view of what is happening mitigates the chaos and panic, and reassures them that things are under control. Crisis communication is an integral part of managing any crisis, which is why it has to be built into the organisational framework from the very beginning. You don’t wait for an incident to happen; you need to put in systems and mitigative actions that can slow the negative impact of the incident, and allow enough time for it to be managed. For this to happen, there needs to be an unhindered flow of information from and to the areas and people who need it most.

Crisis communication is the bedrock of this but its foundations, which enable it to work when an incident occurs, have to be built into the organisation’s systems from the beginning. The people who will take over and do what needs to be done during the crisis have to be identified and trained. How they share and disseminate information is imperative to handling the crisis. In times of crisis, the mouthpiece of the organisation should be a credible source, and be able to deliver information with clarity. Even for the most experienced team members, training will be imperative as they need to be able to recognise and respond in a crisis.

One often-missed aspect of crisis communication and management comes right at the end: it is just as important that an official declaration is made when the crisis is over, so that people will know that they can stand down. Then the work of analysis begins, with feedback on what was done, and how it could have been done better. Don’t forget to highlight shortfalls as well as successes, and how and why things went wrong. All this will be invaluable for when the next crisis comes along – as it inevitably will!