The lasting damage brands suffer during a crisis is often more related to how corporate leadership reacts than the original emergency. Slow, disengaged or deflecting responses can turn even a small, smoldering event into a five-alarm crisis.
Stakeholders have six expectations of CEOs during a crisis. Following this checklist can be the difference between your organization being perceived as the cause of the problem or the problem-solver.
- You’ve noticed the problem. When something goes wrong it’s always better for employees, customers and the community to hear about it from you. Would you rather tell your story or allow the media, regulators or others to control the narrative?
- You care. Too many times in the midst of a crisis empathy gets pushed aside. You’re too busy working to solve the issue or attorneys have warned you about doing or saying anything that suggests liability. Showing your humanity will shape how people perceive your company.
- You’re in control. Taking responsible action is not the same as admitting responsibility. There is a reason a pilot comes on a plane’s public address system in the middle of turbulence. It is reassuring to hear the voice of the person in charge of navigating through the choppiness.
- You’ve taken action. People want to know your team is doing something, even if what you are doing is investigating the situation. Part of showcasing the steps you are taking could be regular press briefings, emails to employees or social posts. Actions speak louder than words, but you need to communicate your actions to all interested parties.
- You’re working to minimize the damage. What have you done to protect people, property, jobs or the environment? Showing that your organization acted immediately to shield the community, assist employees or begin remedial activities is proof that your company is acting in good faith.
- You’ll take steps to reduce the chance of a reoccurrence. Every company faces unanticipated circumstances. People understand accidents happen and well-intentioned people can make mistakes. Showing you have put in place safeguards to prevent another similar situation demonstrates your concern.
Look at any major crisis that spun out of control damaging corporate reputations and careers. You will find in nearly every case that senior leaders failed to communicate awareness, empathy, leadership, engagement, safety and security promptly in sufficient levels to key stakeholders. Meeting these expectations are critical parts of a CEO’s job in times of crisis.
Rick Lyke is Executive Vice President—Managing Director with the Mower PR & PA Group, which has counseled executives at organizations ranging from Fortune 500 companies to small nonprofit charities in the midst of crisis situations.