Mark Angelo, CEO, Yorkville Advisors
Crises are fraught with emotion, action (sometimes without thought), and panic. Leaders need to be separate from all of that and bring a calm and control back to the situation. Some people are naturally better at that than others. But if you aren’t one of those people, the way to make sure you bring order back to the equation is through preparation and forethought.
Preparing for the possibilities is a great start, but never assume that your crisis, when it comes, will have anything to do with your products or service. It can as easily be a statement from one of the leaders in the organization about a cause or a snide remark that wasn’t really serious but get accepted as if it were. You need to prepare, but you need to prepare for the unexpected things too.
A lot of that preparation comes from making good choices in the people you hire, the training you provide, the communication lines between you and your people. You also want to make sure that someone is always monitoring what is being said about your company or brand on social media. Immediate response is imperative, and without constant monitoring, you can’t do that.
You can have templates prepared … fill in the blanks … and release your response. In that, you want to make sure you take responsibility for dealing with the problem. Apologize as needed … and it almost always is … and let people know where you are in the process of tracking down the situation, fixing it, making things right, etc. Each crisis brings its own answers, but remembering what needs to be covered will allow you to focus on the specifics immediately.
In many ways, this process correlates with how top athletes must train continuously. When looking at competitive and confrontational sports, training will not always put the athlete in the same situations as they’ll face in that coming clash, but muscle memory and reactions become almost automatic, allowing each battle to be different, but still win-able. That’s how a leader needs to be when it comes to a crisis.
Get the truth out quickly and keep your responses in keeping with the values and mission of your organization. If you hold back on information, people will fill in that open spaces … and it will probably not be in your favor. Make sure the other leaders in your company are involved early too. Let your head of HR keep employees informed until you can talk with them too. Let your press person be part of your talks with the public to help you where you might stumble.
Another point of preparation can be in your contact with employees and customers, building a great reputation, helping others see the strengths of what you do and the values expressed by your brand. You want that advantage whether or not there is a crisis. But if there is a crisis, you want people to give you the benefit of all the positive work you’ve done before that moment. Do your best as a leader and in training your people in patterns of behavior so that if a crisis comes, the first thing people think is, “That can’t be true. That’s not who they are.”