Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Stakeholder Control in a Crisis

When a crisis team meets in the first 90 minutes of managing a critical incident, one of the essential priority actions has to be identifying key stakeholders. There is no doubt that a stakeholder checklist can be prepared by crisis managers before an event happens but many of these stakeholders can only be identified on the day.

This proactivity is about getting ahead of your key audience agendas.  It doesn’t take long to call and tell a politician, a senior police officer, a journalist, a regulator, a stockbroker, a banker or indeed your own executive and managers about your emerging problem and how you are dealing with it.  They become a credible source in understanding and communicating your response. It’s not a time to bury your head in the sand and say nothing.  The bunker mentality may feel good for a few hours but it’s the fastest way to lose the high ground and encourage the rumour mill.

The court of public opinion wants to know what happened from you and social media plays a large part in early news transmission. Very quickly they will form opinions as to whether you are guilty or not guilty.  If your stakeholders understand that you are on top of the situation making every effort to fix it, they will be an asset to your response.

Commercial Union, one of Britain’s largest insurance companies, had their offices blown apart in London in the 1990s as a result of a terrorist bombing.  Much of the incident and emergency management was handled by the London Metropolitan Police in a very efficient manner, however the company played its part in dealing with a large group of audiences of its stakeholders.  The CEO and crisis Team Leader showed strong leadership and split the business management team into two, one to deal with the day-to-day running of the business and the other to deal with the crisis.  

This explosion killed three people and injured 30.   Four hundred tons of glass and debris were spread across the street and the city of London was brought to a virtual standstill.   The Commercial Union premises were totally inoperable.  The management team went straight to their crisis plan which outlined management teams and established priorities. 

As part of their damage limitation, assessment and action planning, they were quickly able to audit their employees to identify injured personnel and make contact with families.  They had procedures for effective liaison with emergency services. 

Plans were in place to make their building safe and secure, particularly related to the company's information and communication capability. 

All meetings were documented as were all discussions.  They moved immediately into recovery mode to restore communication links and it wasn’t long before they had established alternative premises and replacement of their main switchboard and computer information facilities. They established a temporary communications centre while they were moving into their new building and they were able to follow a plan of where to go, what to do and who does it.

In terms of communication, they made themselves available and distributed information to their staff, the public, media, customers, shareholders, brokers and the insurance industry.  Commercial Union particularly honed in on immediate and longer term plans for staff to encourage morale, goodwill and enthusiasm.

Admittedly, Commercial Union were the victims of a terrorist bomb that blew up outside their 23-storey building.  They certainly had the support and understanding of the British population behind them.  However, regardless of this support, they had to ensure company, corporate and brand survival at the same time as showing that they were able to manage the situation.  They ensured continuity of operations and control of the situation.