Crisis management is a tool many leaders keep in their toolkit, but secretly hope they never need to use on a grand scale. While minor situations arise regularly in the course of business, larger scale issues can end careers and destroy entire corporate profiles if handled incorrectly. We need only look to Equifax and their epic data breach, which called for the release of their CEO and launched a Department of Justice investigation, to see the sweeping impact of poorly handled crises.
Many of us might say what we "would" do if we were in such a situation, but until it happens, we really have no idea. This is where crisis communications becomes incredibly important, and HR plays a pivotal role. It's been said failure to plan is planning to fail, and never is this old adage more true than ensuring a strategy to handle a large-scale public relations disaster.
As we now live in a time now where cloud-based technology is more prevalent, the digital realm is the new marketplace, and crises of this magnitude and type will happen more frequently, leadership must be prepared in advance to manage crisis in the digital age.
Establish Personalities in Advance of the Crisis
One of the benefits of social media and the 24/7 news cycle is that it provides opportunity to raise the public profile of anyone and everyone. While it's not necessary that all corporate leadership be incredibly active on social media from a personal perspective, it is extremely important that the company be proactive in building trust from the beginning. Get your leadership in front of your customers and communicate frequently across traditional and social media. It creates a personal connection with your company and shows there are people behind the issues.
Gather Around the Message Immediately
When the world of communication works on a 24/7 cycle, so must your leadership team. Have emergency communication protocols in place and ensure that they're followed. Your team must get on board with a strategic, unified message immediately and follow your crisis communication plan, which should be in place and reviewed every 3-6 months.
Communicate with Employees
Your best course of action is to communicate immediately and to arm all those involved with everything they need to communicate that not only are you on top of the matter, but that it won't happen again. This not only encompasses conversations with external media, but also includes conversations with your employees to ensure they can pivot with the leadership team and remain connected to your overall vision.
Deploy Your Leadership Brand
An established leadership brand is one of the greatest corporate assets during times of corporate strife. Your leadership brand usually emanates from your CEO, but it's more about what your leaders are known for in your organization, and it informs how your employees should act at all times. It also means that individuals at all levels instinctively know how to conduct themselves in a crisis because it's ingrained in the corporate culture and everything they do. They put the customer first, they protect the corporate identity and they remain focused on the cause.
Finally, one of the greatest assets in our leadership arsenal is also the oldest in the book: be humble. In this fast-paced world, mistakes are bound to happen. Admitting fault and owning up to one's mistakes quickly is something that separates great leaders from those who inevitably fail.
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