During the Second World War, Britain's Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, took constant naps at the peak of his performance in the War Room, deep beneath London. Leadership in a crisis can only be achieved if a leader is prepared to keep a flexible and rested mind.
Having a single-minded sense of purpose from a leader signals an organisation that is ready to deal with the worst. So what does the CEO need to consider in the face of a major crisis?
· The primary role is to provide corporate oversight and direction on resolving the problem and to minimise the impact on the corporate reputation, the community, employees, assets and share value.
· Immediately, it is important to confirm the real situation. Getting accurate facts is sometimes difficult when the pressure is all around, however analysing the facts and identifying objectives has to be a key corporate consideration in the early stages.
· Two streams of action are needed - one to manage the crisis response and one to manage the daily business. Life goes on, and although a crisis can stop an organisation in its tracks, business resumption is essential and part of the immediate recovery process.
· Take into consideration at all times the corporate position. Confirm the message strategy and make sure that one spokesperson is giving a clear, consistent message right across all stakeholder audiences. The CEO should take the role of spokesperson if the situation is critical.
· Research how the crisis is affecting the company’s audiences. Qualitative research can be very important here. Engaging research to monitor attitudes to the response can be invaluable on the road to recovery.
· Be prepared to lose business and market share initially to gain maximum results in your response. (Johnson & Johnson withdrew the Tylenol product in the
after the extortion poisoning,
initially losing market share. They
repackaged in tamper-proof packs under government supervision and quickly
regained brand reputation and market share.) US
· Take the initiative. Be prepared to tell it as it is. Show the stakeholders what you are doing and why you are doing it. Emphasise and speak in language the community understands. Clarify information rather than promise results.
· Don’t let lawyers slow down the crisis agenda. Take good legal advice but avoid being gagged on disclosure.
· Importantly, don’t lose control of yourself or your temper. Overreaction can cause confusion in the response process and a lack of confidence in the direction. There will be dramatic changes in information and they have to be dealt with responsibly.
· Keep a close eye on your competitors. They will use your crisis time as an opportunity.
· Get on top of your financial audience before they are lead by business analysts, academics and financial journalists. Help the financial analysts, the banks and your insurers understand that you are on top of the issues and controlling market vulnerabilities.
· Enlist industry and government support. Make sure your industry and the government understand the seriousness of your problem and do all they can to support your recovery.
· Most of all, think ahead. Use lateral thinking to both interpret unintended consequences and how the business may finish up. Direct your recovery team to start building bridges and repairing reputation now.
As Winston Churchill said - "we know it will be hard; we expect it to be long, we cannot predict or
measure its episodes or its tribulations".