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Crisis Management 101

April 10, 2020 - In the Spotlight

The current situation is here to remind us: knowing how to navigate in a situation of crisis is crucial. Good crisis management allows leaders to not only reassure their troops throughout troubled times, with targeted communications and actions, but also, if done well, to feel the first signs of the crisis ahead of time and to face it well prepared.

A webinar instigated by the Leadership Institute and masterfully conducted by Harold Fortin and Victor Henriquez recently highlighted the elements behind successful crisis management.

Here are the 6 key factors that were identified:

1) Show empathy and solidarity
When a spokesperson is chosen to communicate through the crisis, one must feel that the topic they are addressing is close to their heart. The more empathetic they are, the more their message will resonate with their audience. We want to feel that they are going through the turmoil just like us and that they understand what we are experiencing. A CEO must, for example, be able to put him/herself in the shoes of his or her workers: understand their mindset, expectations and concerns and address them.

2) Clear and concise speech
You need to be able to express yourself with a minimum of words, while having a maximum impact. By conveying a clear message, you can ensure a better understanding from all your audiences. Here, the facts come first. Opinion has no place. People will want to hear information that is true and verifiable. It is also by having a clear and concise message that you will avoid rumours, which, as we know, can be highly damaging. #fakenews

3) Know how to assess risks
This is where the preparation comes in handy! Communications professionals should maintain constant media monitoring and stay on top of emerging trends. That’s how they’ll be able to notice the signals – still weak – of a potential crisis in their industry. This tactic will give you enough time to prepare a plan and will have you be ready when the time comes, before the “panic” curve reaches its peak.

4) Have an emergency communication plan in place
Before even perceiving the warning signs of a crisis, you need to have an emergency communications plan in place – the same way you would follow the orders of your financial advisor, who keeps asking that you to contribute $10 a week to your emergency fund – you never know when your car AND dishwasher will break at the same time!
Identifying in advance the spokesperson(s) who will go to the front lines in case of a problematic situation, offering them the training and support they need to be comfortable navigating in such a context and pinpointing the people who will provide you with key information throughout a potential crisis; all this will allow you to deploy your message as quickly as possible and show that you are in control.

5) Focus on consistency and transparency
This is so important, and probably what made François Legault such an inspiring leader in the COVID-19 crisis! Communicate in a transparent manner: tell it like it is and don’t avoid the bad news, because they will come out, one way or another. Be consistent: make decisions and take action, while remaining aligned with your company’s values. If, at a time of economic downturn, a company with family values and a strong focus on the well-being of its employees decides to make massive layoffs without offering, for example, financial or psychological support to their people, they have made a big mistake!

6) Don’t improvise, know how to surround yourself with the right people
In times of crisis, one can lose credibility quickly – and for a very long time. By sticking to a plan, a strategy, you’re making sure you’re not letting your impulsiveness get the better of you and lead you towards courses of action that could have significant negative effects. By surrounding yourself with the right people, you benefit from their expertise, which complements your own, and take advantage from their knowledge in order to cover all angles in your communications.

A crisis is managed one day at a time, constantly adjusting to changing facts. It is also important to remember that being well prepared will allow you to be operational and effective quickly.


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