Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Crisis Communication: Preparing for Crisis and Visibility When to Send the Boss and What They Should Be Doing

Wisdom from the Crisis Guru # 998 

The issue of if and when to send the boss during a crisis is one of the most strategic decisions made during the response process. (Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, Chapter 3: “Crisis Communication: Preparing for Crisis and Visibility”, pages 95-96.)

The first responsibility of bosses is to oversee the management of victims. This includes many of the senior management team as well, depending on the level of victim creation.

This presumes of course that this element of crisis response has been thought through, and the company has established appropriate policies and procedures to pre-authorize and be ready to answer whatever questions or concerns victims can raise, very promptly. Also, in most organizations the last place the boss needs to be is hanging around the press room or the command center.

In general though, the boss and bosses have much higher levels of responsibility to accomplish once a crisis situation has been identified and occurred.


One of the more powerful weaknesses in crisis response is the lack of specific leadership roles and assignments for top management. The result of this crucial gap in crisis management planning is the mismanagement, lack of management, or paralysis that afflicts crisis response efforts. This defect occurs all too frequently in plans I review, responses I analyze, and scenarios I explore with client companies.

In the course of directing a client’s crisis response, analyzing past responses to crisis, or developing powerful response strategies, it’s clear to me that crisis response promptness and effectiveness depends on having five essential responsibilities spelled out carefully in your crisis plans for the CEO or those leaders who survive.
1. Assert the moral authority expected of ethical leadership. No matter how devastating or catastrophic the crisis is, in most cultures forgiveness is possible provided the organization, through its early behaviors and leadership, takes appropriate and expected steps to learn from and deal with the issues. The behaviors, briefly and in order, are: 
    • Candor and disclosure (acknowledgement that something adverse has happened or is happening) 
    • Explanation and revelation about the nature of the problem (some early analysis) 
    • Commitment to communicate throughout the process (even if there are lots of critics) 
    • Empathy (intentional acts of helpfulness, kindness, and compassion) 
    • Oversight (inviting outsiders, even victims, to look over your shoulders) 
    • Commitment to zero (finding ways to prevent similar events from occurring again) 
    • Restitution or penance (paying the price – generally doing more than would be expected, asked for, or required) 
2. Take responsibility for the care of victims. The single most crucial element in any crisis, aside from ending the victim-causing event, is managing the victim dimension. There are only three kinds of victims: people, animals, and living systems. It’s top management’s responsibility to see that appropriate steps are taken to care for victims’ needs. This is both a reputation preservation and a litigation reduction activity. Most devastating responses to crises occur when victims are left to their own devices, when victims’ needs go unfulfilled, or for whatever reasons (usually legal) the organization that created the victims refuses to take even the simplest of humane steps to ease the pain, suffering, and victimization of those afflicted. Out of all of the CEO’s essential responsibilities, taking a personal interest and an active role in the care of victims is the most important. Maintain a positive, constructive pressure to get victim issues resolved promptly. 
3. Set the appropriate tone for the organizational response. Tone refers to internal management behavior that helps the organization meet the expectations triggered by a crucial, critical, or catastrophic situation. If senior management takes on the posture of being attacked or victimized, the entire organization will react in the same way. Very rarely are large organizations and institutions considered victims. They’re generally considered to be the perpetrators at worst, or arrogant bystanders at best. 
It’s the senior executives who need to set a constructive tone that encourages positive attitudes, language, and prompt responses. This approach protects the organization’s relationships with various constituents during the response and recovery period, shows respect for victims, and reduces the threat of trust or reputation damage. 
4. Set the organization’s voice. Put a face and a voice on the organization or institution as it moves through the crisis. This action is directed towards the external world – how we describe ourselves, what we’re doing, how the response is going, what responsibilities we’re taking, and what outside scrutiny we’re inviting. Sometimes it’s top executives; often the voice is that of a trusted operating employee or manager. The communicator’s role is always to help the operators communicate more efficiently, effectively, compassionately, and ethically. 
5. Commit acts of leadership at every level. Leaders acting like leaders has significance during urgent situations. Literally walk around and talk to people. Encourage, suggest, knock down barriers, and help everyone stay focused on the ultimate response process goals. Random acts of leadership are always welcome in any environment, but especially during crisis. Rather than huddling in their executive offices trying to determine what steps should be taken to resolve the situation, ninety percent of senior executive activities should have executives out-and-about being leaders, motivators, and instigators of empathy. 
Of all of these, it’s the prevention of similar occurrences that will help victims come to closure and provide sufficient evidence that enough lessons have been learned to avoid the need for litigation and other forms of public embarrassment and humiliation.

All crises are management problems first. Pre-planning executive actions can avoid career-defining moments. Include specific executive instructions in all plans and response scenarios.

By James E. Lukaszewski

James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Getting Leadership Ready to Accept Crisis Advice

"Getting Leadership Ready to Accept Crisis Advice"
Wisdom from the Crisis Guru # 999

It would seem logical if you are addressing or advising senior leaders and CEOs to be somewhat familiar with what they do, what they know, what they think, and where they come from. (Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, Chapter 2: “Crisis Communication: Getting Leadership Ready for Crisis”)

This is indeed a powerful barrier to becoming a trusted strategic advisor; the notion that communications is so important we can simply walk up to someone who is important, blurt the answer to the questions they have, and wait for them to do what we say. This is naïve, this is arrogant, this is presumptive and it subtracts from the consultant’s credibility and value more than enhancing value and trust.

To advise leaders successfully requires the study of leadership, great politicians, great leaders, great business people, great thinkers and military strategists. Such study reveals behavior patterns, concerns, fears and doubts that provide the consultants great insight. These insights include knowing more about a leader’s history, their goals and expectations. Besides, sooner or later you have to explain what you’re talking about in the context of what your leadership does, thinks and expects.

Read about leadership, the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Sloan Management Review, Fortune Magazine, Barron’s, Wall Street Journal (every day), Jack Welch’s writings and books, Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report (any year), Directors and Boards, BoardRoom, Executive Book Summaries (monthly summaries of new business books), and any one of a dozen excellent business journals from around the United States, Canada, and Europe. Incidentally, Harvard Business Review happens to be the global standard for business information and education of executives. There are interesting communications and leadership cases in every issue. Your boss is likely reading it.

If you’re wondering what leaders study, they study other leaders and leadership. They read widely about business subjects and they are extremely curious about how businesses succeed and fail. How curious are you about how businesses and organizations succeed or fail? Why not study the business leaders and organizational leadership that your boss undoubtedly admires and studies as well? When I’ve queried CEOs and other leaders about the most important business writers and thinkers, those they pay attention to, these are the names that crop up every time:

· Peter Drucker

· John Kotter (professor, Harvard)

· Warren Bennis (consultant)

· James Collins (consultant)

· Tom Peters (business philosopher)

· Joseph Rotman (professor, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto)

· Noel Tichy (author, lecturer, human resource executive)

· Stephen Covey

Remember what bosses want from their advisors, especially in times of crisis and uncertainty:

· Real-time advice (that is, advice on the spot.) If you leave the room, you’re out of the game.

· Candor: I define candor as truth with an attitude delivered with great speed. It’s the single most important behavior that builds trust.

· Coaching at every encounter: the provision of insights and options to help bosses make better decisions.

· Information the boss does not already know. Most bosses think they know communication. If that’s all you’ve got, they’re not going to call you very often.

· Early warning about things they should be expecting, usually based on the advisor’s understanding of the pattern of events that occurring or will occur. It is about patterns and forecasting the future.

· What to do next. When you’re working with top leadership, they only have most of the answers. There are, by my estimate at least, 25% of the decisions they need to make every day totally on their own. And they could use your help.

Become a storyteller. This is especially powerful advice for women who much more rarely use stories as a method for communicating and persuasion. Males seem to be brought up in a storytelling culture and four decades of observation of the successful strategic advisor has demonstrated that the storyteller beats the information aggregator, evidence developer, and even logical thinker, almost every time. The more serious the situation, the more important it is to tell stories because serious situations put top executive jobs on the line. They know it and it gets in the way of rationality, and hearing.

Over the years I’ve learned that truth is about 15% facts and data and 85% emotion and an individual’s or group’s point-of-reference. Facts rarely prevail. Data makes people angry and causes disputes. The best advisors have mastered the emotional dimension through storytelling and help leaders successfully work through the less or non-measurable aspects of problems (angry neighbors, union problems, bad news, dumb decisions, in appropriate outbursts, etc.) as well.

A good story will beat even the best data, every single time.

By James E. Lukaszewski
James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at

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