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.