This post is about crises that require that you and/or your organization be in the public eye. In a previous post the observation was made that you should try to control the dialogue, as long as you don’t overly rush and sacrifice accuracy. All that is true but in many cases you may have to open yourselves up to questions, and the questions may be hard ones. So not only is it important to craft your message honestly and pick your messanger carefully, but it is also important to ANTICIPATE.
That seems easy enough and many organizations do that but the method is usually very haphazard. A bunch of people get in a room and the leader says “what do you think They’ll ask?” And then the brainstorming begins and people feel obligated to spout something out. After an uncomfortable length of time when the perticipants have spent their energy, someone says “Ok, I think that does it” and that does do it.
Not good! First you should list your stakeholders and one by one list those issues in which each is primarily interested. Investors – the bottom line; employees – job security; customers – continuity of supply; suppliers – change orders and continued ability to pay. There are those in the organization who know the stakeholders best. Pull them into the room to tell you. Role-play. List the issues and develop the answers. Finally, brainstorm to develop everything and anything that might go wrong. Anticipate the worst. The crisis gets worse, competitors ponce, the news media tries to hang you out to dry. Make the list and try to develop the reaction. You won’t be able to anticipate every scenerio or have an answer for everything BUT the process will prepare you and get you close enough to most issues so you won’t be caught in the headlights.
Finally, the chief operating officer should certainly be your front-(wo)man. Nevertheless we all realize, and it is not expected, that the CEO is all-knowing. Mayor Bloomberg has a brilliant strategy of talking to reporters about key situations, giving the broad-brush information or account and then handing over the microphone to his deputy – the police commissioner, his financial chief, his environmental guru or whoever is the person with the handle on the situation. This has a dual-fold impact: the matter has the attention of the very top, and the organization has the expertise and knowledge to provide the public with detailed information. Oftentimes it may be necessary even for the deputy to surround himself with additional experts and rely on them to feed information or come forward and provide the additional information directly. That is why it is very good training to have your employees particpate in meetings and have some experience in speaking in front of a group. You never know when they will be needed.