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28 Sep 2019

Biggest Blunders Executives Make During a Crisis

Crisis isn’t something we like to talk about, but it’s an ever-present and growing threat for every company and organization. According to PwC’s 2019 Global Crisis Survey,  69% of leaders have experienced at least one corporate crisis in the past five years. Whether it’s a security or data breach, or an employee or product issue, the tenets of effective communication during a crisis prevail. Yet we see fails and missteps from the leaders at large organizations every day. Do Wells Fargo and Facebook ring a bell? Here are some of the most common mistakes leaders make with internal and external communication during a crisis.

  1. Not responding fast enough: The moment you receive information that something is wrong—a complaint has been filed, a website has crashed, an investigation has been launched–the clock starts ticking. In today’s 24-hour news cycle, the public expects you to acknowledge the situation and share your plan for resolving it. Even if you don’t have all the answers, you must stay ahead of the problem and direct the narrative. Communicate with your stakeholders as soon as possible and keep the lines of communication open. Let everyone know when they’ll hear from you next and commit to providing regular updates as you gather more information.
  2. Forgetting a stakeholder: When crisis strikes, it’s easy to overlook a key person or group of people who need to be kept in the loop. Forgetting to communicate strategically with a stakeholder—whether it’s an employee, member of your legal team, an investor, or member of the media—can have lasting consequences. Identify your key stakeholders ahead of time and organize your outreach and response plan based on the potential situation or crisis.
  3. Selecting the wrong spokesperson: Choosing the right spokesperson who can respond well under pressure and has the qualities needed to represent the organization is critical. The person selected to communicate with employees and the public during a crisis should also be trained and prepared to handle difficult questions and stay in control of the message. Putting the wrong person—or even the right person who is underprepared—in the spotlight can create more problems during a crisis.
  4. Failing to debrief: Every crisis is a chance to learn how to respond better next time. Failing to debrief with your team means you lose critical insights that can be used to build stronger communication in the future. Review the issues you encountered and your response. Determine what went well and discuss your gaps. Do you need clearer processes and accountability or more training? Use what you’ve learned to strengthen your crisis communication plan and better equip your team for future incidents.

Executives who master crisis communication savvy can not only better manage the situations that will arise, but they can use their skills to build stronger teams and more prepared organizations. They might even prevent millions of dollars in disaster.

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