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.