Margaret McGann

Crisis Communications: help your CEO lead

In communications and marketing, crisis communications, media relations, public relations, strategy on August 9, 2010 at 9:22 am

If a crisis hit your organization could your CEO lead your organization out of it? And could you as a senior communicator help your CEO do it well?

Major crises quickly show whether a CEO possesses the qualities needed to be a leader in times of adversity. Here’s my list of what a strong leader needs to do followed by what communications should do to support them:

Leader: Lead by example showing staff, media, shareholders and other stakeholders how your organization will handle the crisis with integrity.

Communications: Relationships and trust you have nurtured with all stakeholders (from media to investors to community and governments) will help you support your CEO now.

Leader: Foster a culture that encourages everyone from the front line to the senior management team to voice their concerns and know they will be heard.

Communications: Internal communications has worked closely with your CEO from day one to build a culture of trust with employees in every area of your organization through walkabouts, breakfasts with the CEO and engagement through the company intranet and regular updates.

Leader: Be self-aware enough to acknowledge if their policies, procedures or leadership style contributed to the root cause of the crisis.

Communications: If your CEO asks about their communication style and how they are doing be completely honest with suggestions for improvements and how to implement them.

Leader: Have the ability to accept the crisis could get much worse and understand the need to get out in front of it and not downplay its severity to the media, employees or stockholders.

Communications: Don’t spare your CEO the reality of how bad it could get and what needs to be done to manage it in advance. Prepare a strategy that will show your CEO is being upfront about what is happening now, what could happen and how your organization is prepared for any eventuality.

Leader: Rise to the occasion by demonstrating their values, integrity and willingness to make sacrifices until the crisis is over and the organization is back on track.

Communications: Work closely with your CEO to communicate to all stakeholders the sacrifices they will make to show they are living and breathing the values and integrity of your organization.

Leader: Have enough confidence to ask for help, ideas and input from all their people and implement the solutions.

Communications: The goodwill, trust and respect you have nurtured with internal and external stakeholders pre-crisis will make these groups feel comfortable offering help, ideas and input now if asked.

Leader: Know that showing empathy or making an apology to any one hurt by the crisis is not a sign of weakness or acknowledgement of guilt.

Communications: Work closely with your CEO to prepare messaging of genuine condolence and sympathy that shows their strength of character and integrity.

Leader: Recognize your organization will never be the same again so use this opportunity to make the major changes needed to ensure your company will be stronger post crisis.

Communications: Determine and present to your CEO the best communications approach and tactics to  introduce major changes (i.e., new programs, policies or products) during a crisis.

I’m interested to know what you think of this list.

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