Myth no. 1: Crisis communication cannot be practiced enough

You know the experiment where one person starts with a sentence and whispers into the neighbour's ear and the neighbour passes on what he has heard until this has passed through the circle of umpteen participants? What comes out?

You know the experiment where one person starts with a sentence and whispers into the neighbour’s ear and the neighbour passes on what he has heard until this has passed through the circle of umpteen participants? What comes out? Anything other than what was originally said. What do we learn from it? I have the answer for me, but I would be interested to know what your opinion is.

Leadership skills in crises

Crisis management and crisis communication in the case of economic crime events place additional demands on the responsible (crisis) managers, communication officers and investigators. It is not uncommon that the leadership qualities available in the company are not fully utilised in crises, as these are not known in advance and cannot be recognised in time in the event of an incident. People react differently to crises.

“The fact is that in times of threat, resources of varying usefulness are released.”

Experience has shown that the hierarchical constellations within a company do not necessarily represent and correspond to the leadership qualities during a crisis. The ability to keep a clear head in incidents that lead to crises and to maintain the full capacity to act is an essential strategic advantage in crisis management. This ability must be identified primarily in order to be able to fall back on it in an emergency. In such situations, leadership qualities have a significant influence on the efficiency of crisis management. Crisis managers are in the area of conflict between the crisis and the expectations of stakeholders. Not infrequently, they are also under public observation.

Practice versus theory in the event of an incident

An international investigation can be used as an example. During a month-long examination on site at the premises of the object of investigation, more people were taken off sick every day. The event – although it did not attract media attention – led to strong stress reactions among high-ranking employees. An abstraction between a life-threatening attack and an organisational crisis – in this example in the form of an investigation of the facts of the case – could no longer be made by some indirectly affected persons. It was more astonishing for those in charge of the company that the management assistant was able to rise above himself and activate previously unknown resources. Over a period of several months and until the conclusion of this investigation, she was internally the one who supported the team to such an extent that, after years, people still spoke of this ability to keep a clear head over a long period of time in exceptional cases.

Communicating with integrity – always

The reasons for the increasing demand for effective crisis communication and successful crisis management are complex. They can be attributed to 

– the increased sense of values of those in positions of responsibility, 

– the reputation at stake, 

– digitisation and, consequently, increased digital activity by stakeholders and the increased scope of crises 

…back.

“Crises are noticed by the media.”

Or even “shaped” by them. The current events today, in the month of May in the year 2020, show this quite clearly 

As a result, there is a strong temptation to view crisis management as a short-term process and the tasks of the crisis manager as a secondary occupation. What the public sees, however, is a small sample of effective crisis management. Crisis management is an ongoing, continuous process that aims to reduce the probability of occurrence and prepare the organization for crises.

Communication used preventively 

Crisis management be a safeguard and thus prevention against the negative consequences of crises. Every fact-finding exercise carries aspects of the crisis within itself. Be it the internal investigation, which is carried out on behalf of the company. This can be carried out with the help of external specialists or by internal experts. Or the external investigation, which is not commissioned by the company but by the investigating authority. If we look at the different phases of an event based on its life cycle on a macro level, these phases are existing in terms of (crisis) communication over the entire duration.

The communication – regardless of whether it is evaluated as good or bad – starts already in the stage of prevention, is led to reaction via detection and ends with the so-called remediation.  

The various communication elements (see graph) and the associated tasks along the life cycle vary depending on the phase and the underlying characteristics of an organization or company. These should be perceived as one of the elements of (many) existing communication concepts and crisis management programs, as this is a specific group of crises that require additional attention.  

The three main aspects of (crisis) communication are also the following in the event of cyber attacks, economic crimes, and non-compliance 

 
Response 

– Speed (speed in communication, does not have to mean speed in handling the crisis) 

– Consistency (coordination of statements) 

– Openness (media availability, willingness to disclose information, honesty) 

 

Strategy 

– Goal: What do you want to achieve with communication 

– Target group: Who do I address 

 

Content 

– Instructions for your own safety 

– What, When, Where, Why, How

The other factors, such as the timing, means and channels, are derived from this. Individual as every crisis, regardless of whether it is a foreseeable event or the so-called “black swan”, it requires the corresponding allocation of resources.  

With the experiences of the past months you can now see who in your company is a manager who communicates how in times of crisis. Can you see a pattern for yourself? Take these insights seriously and prepare yourself accordingly. The next opportunity will come when communication skills will be subjected to further testing. As an expert in incident management in the areas of governance, non-compliance and white-collar crime, it is part of your daily routine to identify, analyse and build on the different patterns – for optimal preparation in the next case.  

I would like to refute the myth no. 1: crisis communication can be practiced too little. There are enough big and small events to practice. Even in a protected, practical setting.  

Let us continue to communicate – on all channels! 

 

Your 

Sonja Stirnimann 

 
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