By Hannah Walsh

A crisis can change a company’s future. Defined by uncertainty, instability and risk, it can threaten the existence of the most robust of organisations and will inevitably impact the bottom line.

All too often, apparent structural weaknesses, internal indecision and lack of planning derail or at least pose a barrier to effective crisis management. This has been played out on the global stage with numerous examples in the past year alone of ill-prepared and under-experienced leaders further damaging the reputation of the organisation they were sent out to defend.

As news travels instantly and internationally, fuelled by social media, quick and decisive leadership in a crisis is fundamental to implementing and coordinating response and restoring public trust.

Some key competencies are essential to successfully assessing risk and navigating through a crisis:

Vision

A crisis leader needs to keep sight of the end goal. A strong and effective leader will make resolving their crisis the immediate focus. Securing the support of their team by demonstrating control and setting out a common vision that reflects the company values is vital to achieve this aim.

Resourcefulness

The person publicly fronting the crisis doesn’t necessarily have to head up the crisis management team. Too often the CEO of an organisation is trying to juggle media interviews, conduct stakeholder engagement and make operational decisions all at the same time. Whilst the CEO is ultimately responsible for protecting their organisation’s reputation and setting out the vision, appointing a crisis chair can result in a more effective crisis response.

Empathy

Thomas Cook was forced to rebuild its entire PR function following its much-criticised public response to the death of two children in one of its resorts and the refusal of its chief executive to apologise to the family involved. On the other hand, whilst the crisis handling wasn’t flawless, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr’s frequent and authentic communications that demonstrated concern carried a lot of currency following the Germanwings crash in 2015.

Agility

A smart leader has already anticipated what risks their organisation is likely to face and has put mitigation plans in place. A willingness to think ahead, planning and rigorous and regular team training is key to flexibility in crisis management, facilitating quick action to neutralise or minimise the fallout of a crisis.

Perspective

An organisation will be judged on how it handled the crisis as much as for the crisis itself. Recovery is built on trust, which is gained through the words and actions of the leader. It’s not enough to navigate the organisation through a crisis, the expectation of transparency means they need to be seen doing so on the world stage. With the trust relationship cemented, the leader can move into the reputation recovery phase with their authority intact.

Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ Issues + Crisis team is launching Flight School+, a new iteration of its proprietary crisis training programme on 10 April. Flight School+ is a secure web-based portal that simulates social media and media reaction to a crisis in real time. Click here for more info.

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