It’s good to talk when things go wrong, says CEO of Crisis Solutions Dennis Flynn

One of the most common problems in crisis management is poor communication. It’s not just communication to the outside world that catches people out; it’s often an internal communication breakdown that can turn a run-of-the-mill problem into a full-blown crisis.

If the operational staff that are solving the problem aren’t talking to the senior team tasked with updating customers and the general public, then everyone ends up with mixed messages and the crisis spins out of control. Just ask outgoing BP chief Tony Hayward. Practising the art of communication through proper integration of operational and communications teams before there’s a problem can help avoid this scenario, and minimise the consequences of the crisis.

It is not uncommon in companies to see board level members becoming isolated and out of touch with what is going on at operational level. When the appropriate communication channels are not put in place, responsibilities and expectations on all levels can become blurred, which can raise a state of panic when a crisis occurs.

It is very difficult for the head of comms at an organisation to be in two places at once and provide accurate information to the board while dealing with things at operational level. It’s important that employees on all levels train and practice communicating regularly to each other and that board level members proactively converse with operational staff. Undertaking exercises that allow everyone to have a voice means that the senior team can become more in tune with the organisation’s operations, which can be vital in reacting to a crisis situation.

In order to create an effective link between the operational level and senior team, the logistics of an organisation’s communications channel needs to be considered. For example, using runners to gather news from each level of an organisation and provide updates to the senior level can be an effective way to improve the reactions of decision makers.

The role of a communications team can be vital in the event of a crisis, as messages need to be relayed to stakeholders as to the state of the business. However, a comms team can only be effective if it is in the crisis comms ‘zone‘. Communications teams are often accomplished at issuing good news about the business, but in order to cover bad news that can affect the company, they need to be aware of the nature of the industry they are working in and how to spot a crisis emerging. A fully proficient comms team can then have an advisory role in proceedings rather than simply delivering responses from senior management.

In order to minimise the effects of a crisis, it’s imperative that operational staff have a voice to influence senior level members. This can be achieved by putting the appropriate communications channel in place and making sure that the executives work with operational staff to train and practise communicating process issues. Being able to spot a crisis is obviously important for both operational and comms staff. Having a comms team that is knowledgeable of the company and potential industry issues can ensure that accurate and timely information is given to senior management so that the correct decisions can be made when a crisis occurs.

Dennis Flynn is CEO at crisis management specialists Crisis Solutions

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