September 1, 2016
It’s only natural that CEOs would rather not spend a great deal of time considering the worst possible business scenarios. But mistakes — even disasters — are likely to pop up, and business leaders should be prepared to go into damage-control mode.
Here’s a look at how proper preparation and a strong communication plan can help CEOs navigate their way through a crisis situation.
Telling a CEO to stay calm during a crisis is easier said than done. But it’s important to maintain a calm demeanor for internal and external purposes. For the latter, staying composed will help to ease public perception. Employees can feel the stress as well, and the CEO should remember to “take care of their workers,” as Chas Rampenthal writes for Inc.com.
“ … When it is clear you need to communicate, lead by example,” he says. “Have your plan at the ready and stick to it. Try not to lay blame on one person or group and show that you are prepared to take this head on. A calm boss means calm employees, which in turn will help you move forward.”
Identify the stakeholders
Having a plan in place on how to deal with turbulent times is essential. It will save time and energy when the damage control process starts, and ease potential confusion. Yael Grauer writes about this for verticalresponse.com, and features crisis management expert Melissa Agnes. She advises making a list of stakeholders before a crisis occurs, including employees, customers and email list subscribers, and figuring out the best way to reach them (email, social media, text message).
“Determining who to contact and the best ways to reach them before something goes awry is crucial, especially because news has a tendency to spread quickly through social media,” Grauer explains. “And in the midst of a crisis, it can be difficult to juggle all of the tasks that need to be completed while also working to find a list of stakeholders and the best way to reach them. Getting it done ahead of time is a great measure to save you time and ensure you are ready should you ever need it.”
Take time for honest reflection
Admitting a misstep — or even defeat — will be difficult for any business leader. In troubled moments, being honest about how mistakes were made is important. In a story for Business Insider, James Rosebush writes that a first step should be to ponder the situation before opening the doors to the damage-control process.
“Get quiet,” he says. “Spend some time alone. Be wary of advice — it may be mercenary. Remember everything about the episode and write it all down. So much is riding on your clarity about what happened and your willingness to accept the truth for yourself. Explain to yourself why you did it — and be brutally candid.”
Have a strong PR team
Ideally, a CEO will have confidence in the public relations team when things go awry. That doesn’t shift the responsibilities of the situation, but PR professionals should know how to handle crisis mode. As Ann Johnson writes for studioD, these times are “primarily about minimizing the negative perception caused by a crisis situation.”
“A crisis is sometimes the result of an unexpected event,” she says. “It might also be about something that the public relations department hoped to conceal from the public or hoped would not happen. Those involved in damage control are typically on call 24 hours a day, ready to minimize negative public perception.”
Identify who can speak on the issue
You’ve identified the stakeholders and called in the PR team to help guide the damage control process. It’s important to consider who will serve as the “face” of the problem solving, to best represent the business. In a story for ehow.com, Sam Ashe-Edmunds writes, “The people who prepare your message and deliver don’t have to be the same.”
“A CEO or president might project more authority when delivering a message, but if that person is tongue-tied during interviews, another employee or a professional PR person might be a better choice,” Ashe-Edmunds explains. “Limit who will be able to speak to the public and let your entire staff know who these people are.”
Practice, practice, practice
It may be strange to consider practicing or rehearsing damage control situations that haven’t actually happened. There’s no predicting a future crisis, but there is value in practicing how to get into crisis mode. As Ashe-Edmunds recommends, explore different scenarios and the messages that should be developed around them.
“Rehearse phone, TV and radio interviews with the people who will give them,” Ashe-Edmunds says. “Start by asking questions for which they’re not prepared, letting them see how uncomfortable interviews might be and how they will need to respond. Play back taped interviews and review how to improve them.”
Know the outside elements
The internal preparation should be the CEO’s top priority, but knowing how to approach and deal with the media goes hand-in-hand with that. Ashe-Edmunds advises developing a list of media outlets to contact, and also to consider how media members might respond.
“Know which media representatives might be less aggressive and more sympathetic to you,” Ashe-Edmunds writes. “Set parameters for how your own representatives can respond to media queries. For example, if your president or owner will be the person who speaks with the media, require him to wait until he meets with your internal crisis team or PR agency before he makes any statements.”
That may sound overly obvious, but it’s important that business leaders accept blame when things go wrong, even if a lower-level employee may have been the cause. CEOs must acknowledge the issue and that it happened on their watch. Rosebush uses the truth-in-news controversy surrounding former NBC anchor Brian Williams as an example.
“Man up,” Rosebush says. “This is not the end of life. You will go other rounds and regain your respectability if you do not try to make excuses or cover anything up. Don’t hide, but moderate your appearances. For example, Brian Williams must regain enough credibility to as to be taken seriously as a journalist — and especially as a newscaster who is telling his listeners what is supposedly the truth every day. This is the breach that must be mended.”Business & Finance Articles on Business 2 Community