Crisis? What crisis?


In the early 1980s one insurance company led with the phrase “we won’t make a drama out of a crisis” in its television advertising. Easier said than done, if you look at recent attempts to manage in a crisis.

Two obvious ones have been top of mind.

The first has been one of the most high profile cases for decades – missing flight MH370.

The second has been a little less covered on this side of the globe, but it made a big splash State-side. Questions abound about how Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, and the company have handled a product defect that led to a mass recall and the loss of a number of lives.

Barra has only been in the role for a few months. Recently she was in front of a US House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight to explain the recall.

A number of experts have commented on the handling of these two crises. And there are plenty of things to pour over.

For the case of MH370, this includes the appalling use of text messages to keep relatives informed and the lack of a compassionate spokesperson. While in GM's case, some of the focus points include admitting mistakes and making information available.

Many leaders are little prepared for these types of crises. They often fail to realise that getting to the bottom of the problem and solving an issue are, while essential, only part of the challenge. Equally important, if not more so, is how you respond during the crisis itself.

These latest high profile cases have led me to think about some of the critical elements of crisis management, the “C-Suite”. They help with another C – control, or helping to show that your organisation is a good one even under severe stress.

Considered:  there is a likelihood, however small, that something will go wrong. So consider your response beforehand. Be prepared. Have a plan in place and a team ready to go. Own it.

Customer: the trust of your customers is the most valuable asset you have. What would they expect in a crisis? How should you talk to them? What do they need? Remember to be open and informative in a language they understand.

Compassion: one of the most important things during a crisis is to have a credible, responsive, empathetic spokesperson (preferably the CEO). And remember the classic “Triple Rs” – regret, reason and remedy*. First express regret, then explain what happened and then talk about why it won’t happen again. It is important to care.

Communicate: this is too often missed. Owning the situation means communicating early and often, via the right person, in an open manner. This may be hard because often you don’t know everything, but that is OK. Learn to cope with, and use, the media to your advantage.

Consistency: be consistent in your message, style, tone and manner. Know what you want to say and use the channels available, including the media, internet and social media, in the right way.

*As outlined in Drop the Pink Elephant by Bill McFarlan.