Organisations in all sectors experience crises. From wardrobe malfunctions and terrible tweets, to product recalls and insider trading, disasters – no matter how big or small – can complicate everyday operations and create major risks for an organisation’s reputation. Dealing with the consequences and tempering the expectations of various stakeholders is often the true test for a competent corporate affairs specialist.
Showing confidence and conviction from the top
In crises, it is the leader’s duty to shine a light and guide stakeholders through the dark and unknown. In an article in Wall Street Journal, author and former CEO Bill George says that a great leader will always be the first one to take responsibility. When a leader steps up, he or she is exemplifying a culture of initiative and accountability, something which can turn panic into peace for every concerned stakeholder.
Communications need to show stakeholders that the organisation is under control and that its leadership team is being decisive and assertive. A contentious tweet or televised blunder from the CEO could make matters a lot worse for the organisation, but carefully devised communications can be a panacea.
Take, for example, former CEO of BP Tony Howard’s response to the oil spill in 2010 off the Gulf of Mexico: “There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I’d like my life back.”
Such an oversight arguably led to his resignation several months later after a media frenzy surrounding his lack of genuine concern or accountability. But this could easily have been prevented with more effective corporate affairs.
Preventing and predicting a crisis
In a study published in 2008, researchers Lynn Wooten and Erika James illustrated how successful crisis leadership is largely about taking a proactive approach. As communications specialists, we are well-aware of the consequences that we have to react to, but more often than not you can actually buy a lot of time in crisis management by being proactive.
Monitoring appropriate world and industry news sites and always knowing what’s going on outside your organisation is a good place to start. But the researchers also identify other tools, such as practising crisis response, developing contingency plans and reflecting on and learning from particular events, as being incredibly beneficial.
Sometimes, crises cannot be predicted or prevented. As a corporate affairs specialist, however, you have to be prepared to make big decisions with conviction. Moreover, you must coach the C-Suite in how to be accountable with their communications as well.