Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lindt crisis management response to siege

The dramatic events in Sydney this week resulting in the tragic deaths of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson by a radicalised individual represents not only a dark day in Australia’s history but is a sobering reminder that all organisations must be prepared for the unexpected. Over 17 hours the eyes of the world focussed onto the Lindt Café in the otherwise busy Martin Place and the extensive response by the New South Wales Police Force’s Tactical Operations Unit.

With the national terror alert recently elevated to ‘high’ by the Federal Government in September 2014, the realisation that Australia is not immune from the effects of violent extremists was brought to the forefront of our collective mind.

This week’s horrific events should clearly cement the fact that the threat of a major act of violence must remain high on the corporate threat agenda.

In the coming weeks and months there will be debates, questions, reviews and constant differing opinion about this event. What is clear is this critical incident again highlights the need for organisations to have up-to-date, rehearsed and seamlessly integrated Incident and Crisis Management Plans.

What are the learnings for business?

Firstly, a critical event can affect any organisation at any time.  Response must be immediate to take control. Moreover the effects of “someone else’s” crisis could rapidly become your crisis; drawing you into a situation for which you may not be prepared. A routine morning coffee quickly escalated to involve multiple organisations whose employees were tragic victims. In this case Lindt Chocolate Australia and Eight Selborne Chambers.

Secondly, if your organisation has identified the threat of an act of violence or armed intrusion as a risk to its operations then the Lindt Café siege is confirmation of that risk’s validity. Not all events can be prevented, however your organisation can control its response through the application of crisis management best-practice process and response.

Every Chairman and CEO should confirm that their organisation is prepared to deal with the worst case scenario. Does the organisation have a validated Crisis Management Plan that manages people issues immediately while strategically positioning the business to respond and recover from adversity? If the answer is ‘No’ then now is the time to reinvest in protecting your business and brand from company destroying events.

The age of social media

The Lindt Café siege again has highlighted the immediate power of social media. It confirms the necessity of incorporating this communication platform into your organisation’s response. Social media must be a front-line integrated part of the arrowhead that is your organisation’s crisis response.
The high profile effects of social media were visibly seen: The hostages were directed by the perpetrator to use it to communicate during the crisis, the solidarity characteristics of the crisis spawned the viral and global trending of the #Illridewithyou hashtag and the NSW government used it to communicate with affected publics.

An equally valuable learning for business was also demonstrated through Lindt Australia’s social media response. Within the early stages of the siege unfolding, Lindt delivered through social media a caring and concerned message strategy that was timely, appropriate and consistent. They demonstrated their compassion through an explicit stating of what their corporate priority was: People. Within two hours of posting their first message on their two Facebook sites (Lindt Australia and Lindt Chocolate Café Australia) there was a combined 35,000 likes, 2,000 shares and 2,000 comments. This necessarily excludes those who simply viewed the message only. As the situation developed, more messages appeared and their priority remained steadfast. Business leaders would be well served to familiarise themselves with Lindt’s social media response by viewing their Facebook page.

The Lindt communications response is a valuable contemporary learning that demonstrates the positive reach of social media. Conversely a poor message strategy could indeed create a secondary crisis for an organisation. The court of public opinion can be an unforgiving arena; if you do not get your message out fast and correctly someone else will fill the void with an alternative, inaccurate and potentially damaging message.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Don't blame the media in a crisis

Presidents, Prime Ministers and CEO's are given to blaming the media during a crisis.  It doesn't work because crises are news and there are hundreds of leading journalists, commentators and broadcasters who must get the facts to satisfy the ever-increasing public demand.

Don't blame the media.  They are doing their job and if you are not involved in a crisis, you would expect them to give you the news. All too often journalists are blamed for being too intrusive.  But, if they don’t give us the facts, we soon ask why.

Of course the media is interested and if they can’t get it immediately, they will go somewhere else.   They must have a spokesperson to lead their story.

The prospect of taking the high ground and doing the interview or press conference may strike terror into the heart of most corporate leaders, however it must be one of their early priorities.   There seems to be a mind-set in some management circles that by providing the media with facts early on, they are going to be accused of mayhem.  It is just the opposite.  Every fact that is provided in the early stages will release the pressure from both the spokesperson and all the internal stakeholders. 

In the case of one therapeutic products company during an escalating product recall, the leading network “warrior” interviewer demanded he spoke to the Chief Executive so he could get the news “right from the horse’s mouth”.  He shouted down the phone that there would be hell to pay if the company didn’t come good and give the network the story.  “I will stand outside your plant with the company name in the background,” he shouted, “and tell the story as I see it until you submit”.  

The CEO was experienced in media interviews and took on the task of meeting the “warrior”.  His organisation’s image and, to a degree, his reputation, was on the line.  Certainly there was going to be some difficulty in getting the message across and there will be traps and perhaps his words will be twisted, but he must tell the story. 

The CEO met the “warrior” and turned the setback into a springboard.  Questions were asked about the quality of the product and its future in the market place.  The CEO positioned the product as essential and vital to saving lives and identified the problem in the product recall as being controllable and the company as being in control of that problem.  He offered cool, clear and instant advice to the public about how to get advice or information on the situation and by the end of the interview, he had total clarity on the company’s confident approach to managing the situation.   He retained the initiative throughout and was never outmanoeuvred.  The sad end to this story of investigative dynamics was that the interview was never used.  Was it too good to be true or too true to be good?        

For the uninitiated, a period of media attack can be disastrous.  A barrage of cameras, microphones and tape recorders coming at you from every angle.  How do you avoid being ambushed by the early questions and how do you contain the situation without looking like you are on the defensive?   You understand what the media will want well before an incident occurs.  You plan, prepare and practice.

The Radio and Television News Directors’ Association in the US was surveyed on media expectations of an organisation during a crisis or disaster.  They wanted to find out how television stations covered an incident.  They  also interviewed people from the public relations industry who had been involved in a crisis.  The most important responses were to the question of “when a crisis occurs, how often does your organisation want updated information?” The most frequent answers were “constantly”, “immediately” and “as soon as possible”.  Respondents to the research also wrote “as soon as new developments warrant the public being informed”.  

Don't blame the media.  Have a plan to respond when they come and communicate your core message from the start of any critical incident. Move to the high ground with your spokesperson and be seen as the centre of information. Work with the media to win and hold the high ground.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Crisis apology from CBA - from CAN'T to CAN.

At last, under the threat of a Royal Commission, the Commonwealth Bank's Chief Executive has apologised unreservedly for its multi-million dollar financial planning scandal. In such high-profile corporate crises, "no comment" is no win. It is only a few days ago when a spokesperson for the Bank said "the CBA does not comment on rumour and speculation".

The Bank's highly-promoted brand slogan, "Can", categorically became "Can't" in their initial response to this critical and escalating disaster. When a strong brand and reputation need the protection of an early executive response, it is essential that the top management come out fast, loud and clear. And in this case, the Australian Treasurer, Joe Hockey, says the Bank did not act quickly enough to address the problem. And he should know. His own mother-in-law was affected by the scandal.

Public outrage must be managed fast, particularly in this age of social media igniting rumour and innuendo. Malaysia Airlines. Costa Concordia. BP oil spill. All criticised for early failure of a corporate message strategy to key stakeholders.

Corporate crisis communications pre-planning is central to the management of how an organisation delivers information to others during a critical event. This process should identify:
  • who are the stakeholders who will be seriously affected by the event and must receive information immediately?
  • what is the message strategy (not the media strategy but the central message strategy for all stakeholders)?
  • how will the messages be delivered with pace and priority?
  • who is the most appropriate spokesperson at the top of the organisation? If it's a major negative event, it has to be the CEO.  There is no hiding place.
Communicating with employees, customers, shareholders, government, media or regulators is an essential part of deescalating a crisis situation. This requires strategic pre-planning, constant monitoring and feedback. As the crisis develops, it is vital that communication is analysed and that the receipt of central messages to key audiences is confirmed.  This is now more important than ever with social media driving messages further and faster from the hub of the incident through the organisation nationally and internationally.

In a round of recent executive exercises with 10 sites in Asia, one common factor kept feeding back to our facilitator in the hot debrief - "our communication of key messages to stakeholders was too slow - we needed faster approval of corporate messages and clearer pathways to our key audiences".

Without doubt, "no comment" is no win. Early communication allows those who are affected to know what is happening and that it is being managed effectively.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Catastrophes and best practice crisis management

Regarding the recent terrible flooding crisis in the UK, I have just returned from that country and seen first hand the devastating flooding as torrential rain has caused the worst weather in UK’s history, with much of the Somerset area that I saw looking more like an inland sea.

As The Guardian newspaper quoted then - “public anger has risen as inexorably as the filthy waters in thousands of homes.”  The Prime Minister, David Cameron, took a while to get there which presented the question in the court of public opinion of “why has he taken so long”?  Once there, he seems to have been very community active but he could have learnt a lot from the early leadership stance of then Premier, Anna Bligh, to the floods in Queensland, Australia. She walked and talked to the community from the start. Leadership spokespeople in crises must arrive early and say and make things happen.

2014 will see the timely launch of a new British Standard for Crisis Management for both business and government organisations and most applicable for strategic response to major events such as floods, fires, riots, explosions, critical accidents and major product disasters. 

The new Standard will be aimed very much at executive management and those with strategic responsibilities in developing crisis management capability within their organisation. To quote the British Cabinet Office Public Available Specification facilitated in advance of the new Standard, "crises present organisations with complex and difficult challenges that may have profound and far-reaching consequences, sometimes irrespective of how successfully they are seen to be managed.  These consequences can be very damaging, especially where it is perceived that the organisation failed to prepare for, manage or recover from a crisis."

This is very relevant as countries and organisations around the world develop their crisis management capability at a more high-level context to respond to catastrophes. Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian Government are experiencing this level of executive response under the microscope regarding their missing 777 aircraft where airline officials and government leaders are presenting information with very mixed and misleading messages.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2014 Crisis Management Imperatives

In 2014, crisis management has moved further forward to support risk and resilience management. The unexpected crisis, both for government and corporations, has become a high priority. While hospitals, fire fighters and law enforcement response organisations continue to upgrade their capability, many executives and senior managers are not prepared either intellectually or emotionally to face rapid, escalating tragic events such as major accidents, corporate collapses, infrastructure failures, massive product recalls or acts of terrorism.

Even though some organisations have been through a major crisis, management avoids talking about the subject, often because they equate crisis with bad management and events like that do not happen on their watch.

The most rapid advancement in crisis management preparedness is the speed of communication. CEOs and managers at every level need to know and share information rapidly. In today's world of instant media coverage and social media commentary, if an organisation doesn't get its message out clearly and distinctly at the beginning of a crisis, someone else will take the high ground. The moment of control will be lost.

Then why are some organisations better able to take control of a crisis rapidly? The key elements are:

* The CEO and CFO have a commitment to crisis management and contingency planning for response to
threats that can harm the organisation's personnel, property and reputation.
* Divisional, subsidiary and affiliate management develop similar contingency plans in their areas
of responsibility consistent with the organisation's policies and procedures established by senior
* There is a clear identification and measurement of threats.
* Executive teams, divisional teams and site teams are trained and ready.
* The plan is tested, validated and current.

The crisis best practise organistions I work with understand that these are bottom line issues. They recognise that crisis management planning is a resilience strategy. They understand that uncontrolled crises can cause high employee turnover, interrupted workflow, massive asset damage, lawsuits, loss of market share and, in a corporate environment, a detrimental effect on share price.

Make 2014 the year to ensure that your people and your plans are functionally up-to-date. Take advantage of new technology to share information rapidly. Make sure your human resources, legal, risk, corporate governance and corporate affairs processes are linked with your executive rapid response. Err on the side of over-disclosure - credibility is the key to perception.