By Merilee Kern
The COVID-19 pandemic has understandably spurred renewed conversation around business crisis management.
This is a discussion on how to better plan for and preempt unforeseen disruptions, as well as aptly navigate when perilous challenges present, to optimally emerge on the other side stronger than the business was before.
The problem with much of the current discourse is it largely regurgitates mindsets and methodologies that are, at best, underwhelming in today’s complex macro-economic climate, and at worst, have been rendered entirely antiquated given current conditions. Novel challenges like COVID-19 demand commensurately fresh ideas that intend to help organizations large and small survive and succeed amid today’s brand of chaos.
With this in mind, the author turned to Kiya Dowdy Frazier and Oscar Frazier, principles at Demand Consulting, a global crisis management firm that designs and implements techniques helping federal government agencies, heads of state, corporations, and small businesses manoeuvre through, and beyond, menacing circumstances.
The Fraziers offer three modern crisis management techniques that, while somewhat counterintuitive, are duly compelling and convincingly sensible.
1. Gaining trust is not enough
Gaining marketplace trust, building relationships, and even securing leads require radically different approaches in the post-pandemic world. People have grown weary of misinformation and contradictory statements from those in positions of authority and are perhaps more jaded and doubtful now than ever before. When there is a lack of understanding or credibility concerns, fear and defensiveness take over as the default operating system and individuals put their guard up.
In other words, the ability to gain trust is not entirely futile but, rather, it is the method of connecting with people that requires change. The first step now begins with ‘me too.’ Far beyond trust, today’s recalibrated marketplace mindset requires relatability and authenticity on a critical mass scale.
Many are facing the exact same challenges, whether related to COVID-19 or otherwise. So be empathetic, approachable, and forthcoming about personal challenges and experiences. That level of vulnerability—demonstrating one is just as concerned and affected as the person they are meeting—are highly effective ways to build trust.
Prior to COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the world, gaining trust and connecting with people often came by demonstrating achievements, a high level of training, or subject matter expertise. This kind of instant validity without emotional drivers is going by the wayside. Sentiment matters.
Now, people need to know they can relate to each other. Being able to identify with one another will be the lifeblood of successful businesses.
2. Data management falls short
Collecting and analyzing data to drive decision making internally within the organization is no longer enough. Today, transparency about what that data means is paramount and represents both a gift and curse. While everyone is apt to share good news, even a simple, unintentional oversight or dulling of data can have costly implications. In today’s highly competitive marketplace, there are fewer chances to ‘get it right’ and even make up for what happened. Not just curating and managing data, business owners must be spot on with interpreting those data analytics and reporting in kind.
Indeed, the ability to leverage those analytics for short- and long-term modernization is the key to survival. But, in this new environment, businesses must find ways to do more with less. Less resources, fewer chances, and different methods of communication—even within a company’s own teams—is paramount. Data, good or bad, is a lifeline and processing of informational inputs for highly intentional and strategic decision-making is the order of the day.
Naturally, the first step is clearly communicating key findings. However, companies often miss the second and third piece: helping the audience, whether internal or external, make sense of everything, as well as following up with a clear plan of action to mitigate risk, resolve current issues, and position themselves for a stronger future. It is one thing to provide data, but it is very different to provide data with actionable tactics.
Migrating content and processes to the cloud, creating shared environments, and establishing tools to strengthen communication and data access across constituencies has become a must for a growing number of organizations. This kind of tactical and readily deployable adjustment is a step in the right direction toward better managing and aptly leveraging one’s data trove.
3. Messaging methodologies miss the mark
Validation-driven micro-communication is now where it is at. Rather than just asserting positioning and talking points, companies need to demonstrate the impact of its messaging in as specific terms as possible. Everything a company conveys to the masses needs to be demonstrated with results and reference points people can access. The ability to effectively and efficiently communicate virtually and remotely via digital solutions is no longer an option, but rather an imperative. Companies must be aware there is increased awareness of—and desire for—community, connection, humility, and social responsibility that should now underpin most, if not all, communications in a post-pandemic era.
Companies must also make a concerted effort to control messages across all platforms, including social media where information (and misinformation) spreads quickly. The right words conveyed with the right tone and with the proper imagery is what is required.
“The very thought of the word ‘crisis’ tends to spur a sense of panic,” says Kiya Frazier. “Even so, it’s wise to take emergency situations head-on and with a laser focus. Any crisis management plan that tries to take on too much, or otherwise veers away from the actual core crisis at hand, is one that’s likely to fall short at best or, worse, fail altogether.”
“When people panic, they tend to inflate or deflate factual data to fit their own needs, desires, agenda, or gut instincts,” adds Oscar Frazier. “This is the single biggest mistake a company in crisis can make, since processing data objectively is the key. Situation analysis requires taking a hard look at realities and making even the most difficult—if not painful—of decisions to get back on a recuperative course.”
Today’s class of business challenges requires a recalibrated approach to crisis management and communications. Even tried-and-true tactics of yore may deliver diminishing returns as industry and markets evolve in tandem with public health, political, and socio-economic events. Even undertaking the three tactical strategies above can foster the kind of progressive paradigm shift required to help companies best weather those inevitable and seemingly omnipresent storms.