Tuesday, January 24, 2012

When faced with a crisis - don't make it worse.

Every leader will face a crisis.  How and what you communicate under duress is critical to you and your team.  People observe leaders extremely closely during a crisis to gauge how they really feel.  People feel vulnerable during times of crisis.  They need to be reassured; they want vital information.  They need to know if you truly care.  They want to know if they have the whole story.  They want to know if you have taken accountability. They want to know if you have a plan to solve the problem.  People don't want avoidance of issues, professional media spin, legalistic answers, or doubt regarding responsibility for who will be responsible for the next steps.  People want clarity.

Here are a two examples of crisis communication in the news last week.

Costa Cruises made an offer to the passengers of the disastrous Costa Concordia to refund the price of their tickets for the deadly trip off the Tuscan coast.  In addition,  the company offered a discount of 30% on all future voyages.  The search for survivors has not been completed nor the reasons for the tragic ship wreck adequately explained.  This is a poor choice of timing and a sad offer.  This is bad crisis management.  The leadership team made a bad situation worse.

Newt Gingrich's ex-wife questioned Gingrich's character before the South Carolina Presidential primary election.  The first question to Gingrich at the critical final debate was, "are you going to address your ex-wife's allegation?" Gingrich masterfully reduced the heat by categorically refusing to discuss the issue.  He won the Primary.  He had explained the situation in the past.  He had addressed the problem in his mind.  He believed it was old news.  He did not give the story new fuel.  His strategy worked. 

Key questions for leaders to consider:

How will you communicate under pressure?

What will you communicate under pressure?

Who will be on your crisis managment team?

Prepare as much as you can before the moment; the preparation will be worth the investment.

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