Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Crisis Communication & Command Responsibility

I just sat through a meeting where the folks running the place spent much of their After Action Analysis time whining and moaning about the lousy media coverage of their latest disaster.

These are good people, it’s an excellent company. I honestly believe that those in charge intellectually understand how important communication is when bad things happen. The problem is that their emotions got in the way of making communication operational until it was too late.

Crisis Management Commandment #1: Communication becomes an operating function during crisis, often the dominant operational function. Start earlier.

Corollary #1: Even the best response poorly communicated is a poor response, in reality, historically, even metaphorically.

Corollary #2: Upon analysis, communication will always be a problem in crisis. Interoperability will always be a serious issue in crisis. Reaction speeds and focus will always be controversial. Can we move on? Can we look deeper for things that can be meaningfully changed to improve readiness?

All of this leads me to yet another set of lessons for those on the front lines when bad things happen:
  1. Be prepared to talk. If you don’t or can’t, someone else will gladly make something up, which you’ll have to respond to and own.
  2. Be prepared to correct the record. If you don’t, later analysis will make you out to be a liar, even if all you were doing was issuing updated information (remember a thousand barrels of oil a day?).
  3. Get ready for the citizen journalist. They will find you and make comments without asking you, and they will be believed far more than you will.
  4. Be Web ready, everyone else is—victims, activists, irritated neighbors, bloviators, bellyachers, and backbench grippers. The Web is four times more credible than newspapers, three times more credible than radio, and two times more credible than television.
  5. If it’s coordinated response you seek, then plan for it, fund it, commit to it, and practice it. Otherwise, stop bellyaching when the press, bloggers, and critics point out your shortcomings.
  6. Remember the YoYo response factor is always at work—You’re on Your own until help or more information arrives. Even then, you’re likely to be on your own throughout the balance of the crisis. Those who invite others in to help, often experience far more complications, confusion, and confrontation. If your preparations depend on others to save you, you’ll be disappointed every time.
  7. To be a strategic partner in crisis, every communicator will need to know more than communications tactics. Since most of the people who run things in this world think they’re terrific communicators, you’d better have some really useful suggestions on other topics that involve operational response.

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