Monday, April 26, 2010

List your crisis stakeholders early

In every crisis, stakeholder communication must start immediately in order to maintain effective control. It is an axiom of crisis management, if not business generally, that what you say is as important as what you do, and that you do what you say you will do.

How you communicate with stakeholders will have a direct bearing on the duration, intensity, and economic cost of the crisis.

List your key stakeholder groups. Get them up on the whiteboard. Some will be enemies and some will be friends, but in order to handle their needs and expectations, you must communicate with them fast.

Without being industry specific, key stakeholders will normally include:

* employees and next of kin (first and foremost)
* senior management and Board
* unions
* customers and suppliers
* financial analysts, bankers and shareholders
* insurance companies and legal representatives
* affected and interested third parties such as local community, academics,
environmentalists and special interest groups
* media including the web
* the general public

Identify your crisis stakeholders and confirm communication strategy for each early. Proactive organisations do this before a crisis hits to get ahead of the agenda.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mining crisis next-of-kin

It's rare for a US President to directly blame a company and government for a major crisis. President Obama has blamed the country's worst coal mining disaster in 40 years on the Massey Energy Company and government mismanagement. The explosion in West Virginia on 5 April killed 29 men and injured two. The President said: "Owners responsible for conditions in the Upper Big Branch mine should be held accountable for decisions they made and preventative measures they failed to take."

Only four years ago at Sago Mine, also in West Virginia, 12 miners died in another horrific mine accident. This event will long be remembered for the devastating media coverage where it was stated "12 Miners Found Alive" when in fact 12 miners were later declared as fatalities.

Common to both these disasters were the sad and tragic faces of family members searching for information and confirmation. A scene too often presented in these industry emergencies.

Ahead of any major emergency or crisis, a number of essential actions will prepare an organisation to communicate with employees and next-of-kin. They are:

* designate who is accountable for coordinating communication with families
* pre-arrange internal training to deliver bad news to families
* make provision for counselling rooms to manage enquiries from families
* establish detailed records of families' names, addresses and phone numbers
* arrange protection of families from the media and outside stakeholders
* establish guidelines on communication with contractors
* develop a message strategy for spokespersons to update information
* establish a dedicated family call centre and train telephonists

Organisations will be judged on how they treat people in a crisis. Effective communication is the key.

The crisis 'blame game'

The blame game is inevitable in crises and this is particularly evident related to the Royal Commission Inquiry into the Black Saturday February 7, 2009 Australian bushfires in the State of Victoria.

Blame for the warning system, for emergency preparedness, and leadership of coordinated responses has been levelled at the Chief Fire Officer of the Authority, and further blame is now being levelled at the then Police Commissioner, who held a senior Disaster Plan responsibility and has been questioned about her failure to perform her duty on the day. She is particularly criticised for "leaving her post" although she had delegated her role to take a break for dinner.

More than ever, crisis leaders are met with increased scrutiny from key stakeholders about their strategic thinking and their integrity of leadership. What is clear is the court of public opinion's perception of their leadership in crisis. And often that is shaped by the leaders' personal attributes and values and not their response process management. Too often some media will focus on a leader's lack of integrity and decisiveness which leads to serious negative perceptions of what otherwise was a job well done.

In the end, a leader's role in times of crisis is to communicate a vision and reassure stakeholders of what is happening and the direction of the response. Every crisis leader is on "centre stage" and under public scrutiny from the beginning to the end recovery.