- Employee Engagement
I'll bet every chief communications officer reading this blog would say they had a crisis communications plan in place. And, I'll bet each would say it's no more than an arm's length away from their desktop computer. I'll go even further and describe the crisis plan: it's contained within a three-ring binder, has multiple, multi-colored tabs, is wider than the Mississippi in springtime and, alas, is gathering dust.
I mention crisis plans and planning because, as we all know, the worst time to test a crisis plan for the first time is in the midst of an actual event.
I'm not suggesting that's the case with Ikea, the global furniture giant, which announced a week ago it was removing its signature Swedish meatballs from markets and cafeterias across Europe after one batch was found to contain trace elements of horse meat. Ikea is actually just the latest in a long line of major brands that have been horsewhipped by the horse meat crisis.
I say horsewhipped because a number of analysts have suggested Ikea was caught flat-footed by the rapidly escalating crisis. One investment banker had this observation: “Did Ikea want to sell horse meat? No. Have they been caught out by rogue elements? Yes.” (Read: They weren't prepared).
The horse meat crisis “...started off as a local problem, then became national, then international,” said Chris Elliott, the director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's University Belfast. “At the last count, something like 19 countries were involved either in the supply chain or in uncovering tainted products.” (Read: Ikea should have seen this coming).
As for Ikea, their first public statement came after the discovery of tainted meat in a Czech Republic store. A spokesman said, “We take seriously the test result...indicating presence of horse meat in one batch of our meatballs.” (Read: Ikea finally awakened to the crisis). Simulate a crisis in advance The way to handle a product recall, or any crisis for that matter, is to simulate your response in advance. Some readers may have already done so. But, I guarantee most of you haven't included line managers in your crisis simulations. As a result, while you may be bulletproof for a potential CNN interview, I'd wager you're more vulnerable than a newborn baby when it comes to the impact a mega crisis will have on business continuity as a whole.
Having counseled clients on product recalls ranging from tiny bits of wire found inside bags of potato chips to appliances spontaneously catching fire, I can tell you that every member of the C-Suite needs to set aside at least a half-day in order to role play who does what when the horse meat hits the fan.
And, having conducted countless crisis simulation training sessions for organizations large and small, I can tell you one of two things ALWAYS happens: lines of responsibility blur and one, key constituent audience is overlooked entirely.
I've always believed an organization's people are its most important asset. So, while there are exceptions to the rule, I believe one begins a crisis response by first briefing employees, establishing protocols for handling press inquiries, etc., and providing them with messaging for friends and family alike. Employees are an organization's front-line ambassadors. One does not want them caught unaware (or, to be anything but supportive in what they say).
From there, one should create, and follow, a constituent audience matrix throughout the duration of the crisis. Determine who provides updates to customers, the local community, industry regulators, Wall Street, the media, and others. Nuance the messaging so, that while it's consistent throughout, it remains relevant to each audience (i.e. The Street needs to be assured of the organization's financial strength and commitment to business as usual during a crisis, while employees need to know they, and their jobs, are safe). Each audience has different wants and needs.
Social media is the new 800-pound gorilla of crisis management. So be sure that, as you test your plan, you simulate various online scenarios and create a ‘dark site’ that is fully loaded with facts and figures and can be turned on in the blink of an eye. The upside of a downside A product recall crisis can also provide a huge upside opportunity to display guts, grace (and ethics) under pressure. Countless organizations, beginning with Johnson & Johnson during the legendary Tylenol crisis, have actually enhanced their image, reputation and market share as a direct result of the way they managed the crisis. That said, J&J’s recent crises have undermined just about any goodwill and equity created during the original event. And, BP continues to lower the bar in every conceivable way. As Page Turner readers know, BP is currently dominating global media coverage with its very public legal battle against several Southern U.S. states. If you do nothing else in a crisis, do the exact opposite of whatever BP does at each, and every, step.
Ikea may very well have pulled every line manager into a conference room one day a few months back and simulated a product recall crisis. But, based upon their slow response to a clearly escalating crisis, my guess is they were caught with their furniture unassembled.
That doesn't have to happen to you, and your organization. Don't rely on a moldy, three-ring binder that was prepared during the second Clinton Administration, and now rests comfortably alongside your signed copy of 'The Outliers' by Malcolm Gladwell. Instead, grab the bull by the horn (or the horse by the mane, if you prefer) and practice, practice, practice for the inevitable crisis.
If you do, analysts won't be bemoaning your plight (and your stock price won't be taking a hit, either). Instead, poets and pundits alike will be pointing to you, and your peers, as a best-in-class example of how to manage an organization during a crisis.
Steve Cody writes a daily blog that can be found at www.RepManBlog.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @RepManCody.
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