Crisis in the Organization: Crisis Communications with Stakeholders

When we’re dealing with a crisis in the workplace, we tend to focus on the actual crisis and how to manage it.  Although the responsibility of directly managing the crisis is very important, we tend to forget that part of that responsibility is to manage crisis communications with stakeholders.
The obvious ones affected are the people working within the organization:
  • Executives – they are the ones who lead the organization, which means that they are expected to lead well through a crisis in the organization
  • Managers – they are expected to move forward with the direction and leadership from the executive team and to communicate expectations
  • Team members – they are at “ground level” and must continue to work well in the midst of the crisis
However, we still need to think about those who have a vested interest in the organization as well.
  • Customer and clients – they may be affected by the crisis in various ways, including: supply and demand, customer service, and the stigma of the crisis.
  • Vendors – not only is the organization affected, but the vendors are affected as well as they provide products and services.  Especially those vendors who consider the organization as a significant revenue source, any significant crisis affects their organizations as well.  Additionally, vendor representatives usually have a strong interest in what is going on.
  • Investors – as investors expect return on investment and protection for their investment, any crisis will cause some additional attention as well as some concerns.
  • Influencers – with their emotional and mental investment for recommending the organization to others, a crisis will potentially put their reputations at stake
With all of these groups in mind, it’s important to consider what we need to do for crisis communications.  Here are some essential recommendations:

Don’t try to hide the facts that are either in the marketplace or will be in the marketplace at some point.

It is important to acknowledge what has happened if information about the crisis is out in the marketplace.  Trying to cover is up or pretend something didn’t happen is a dangerous game.  You and your organization will most likely pay a severe price for trying to hide them.  Acknowledge the truth by controlling the conversation.  Admit what is wrong and clearly state what you and your organization are doing to correct the situation.  Avoid justifying your actions which caused the crisis as much as reasonably possible.  No one wants to consider excuses, but people respect strategic action and prompt crisis communications.

Contact the critical stakeholders directly about the details of the crisis and the crisis management plan.  

There is nothing worse for a stakeholder to find out about a crisis which will affect them directly through an unrelated party.  That conversation starts with, “Hey, did you hear about . . .”.   The rest of the conversation typically doesn’t go well after that.  Do not allow someone who is affected by your organization’s crisis to be needlessly embarrassed.  Focus on maintaining trust by being as quick, tactful and responsible as possible.  Have the difficult conversation as soon as you know all of the facts.  Explain that you have a plan to deal with the crisis.
Even if that plan doesn’t have all of the small details figured out by the time you make that call, the important step is to be able to tell the stakeholder what you are doing to resolve the crisis.  No one wants to make that phone call. It’s better, however, that you make that call before someone else.  You make the call to keep your organization’s best interests in mind.

If the crisis is a significant, public one which affects a lot of people, hire an expert to help you and your organization navigate through it.

When you and your executive team are managing a really big crisis, the last thing that you want to do is to manage it yourselves.  You need to hire an expert to help you through the details.  The expert will allow you to focus on what you should be doing.  Especially when the crisis is public, you need someone who can manage crisis communications to limit damage in the marketplace.  These experts have extensive experience in these areas.  They commit to restoring trust in your organization.  Let them advise you on how to communicate the best messages and how to comment on questions that you will face in the press.  Additionally, contact a qualified attorney in case there are legal issues involved in the crisis.

Organize what you need to do now and what you need to do later.

Don’t try to address everything at once as part of crisis communications.  Prioritize important things now.  Delegate to others in their skill sets and expertise.  Resolve every important detail promptly and professionally.

Lastly, it is important to maintain and monitor excellent communications.  

Tell the truth.  If you can’t disclose details, be honest and briefly explain that you can’t share particular details or information.  Again, avoid the tendency to justify any kind of actions or responses you and your organization have made.  Consistently show how you are taking action and making the right decisions to manage the crisis.
No one wants to deal with a crisis.  You can still manage it well.  Communicate with your stakeholders, and you will find that your organization positioned itself better than where it was before the crisis began.

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