In a crisis, many executives don’t know what to do. That’s fine. Even the best business experience doesn’t prepare some for situations they couldn’t even imagine before. They need help.
In recent weeks, we have seen a range of responses to adversity and this feels like the right time to share some of them with you, so you can maybe remember or find this post when the need strikes.
First, there are the truly prepared. In full disclosure, we have a few contracts with companies that have us ready to go, complete with signed NDAs and an agreed hourly rate, in case the unusual or, depending on how you look at it, the inevitable occurs. One of these companies had to kick such an agreement into gear not long ago, allowing us to work through a challenging situation together, instantly. This was ideal.
The next best thing was what a company out-of-state did just a few weeks ago. An acquaintance is serving as an executive there and as soon as this leader spotted signs of trouble, we got a call. We participated in a video meeting within two hours and immediately addressed the situation, with counsel based on experience, a plan outline and standby messaging. The net cost to the organization was just a few hours of outside added value. But, by not procrastinating or “advice shopping,” the situation was quickly, efficiently and adequately addressed and the reputational damage to the organization was limited.
The worst example we have seen lately was from a company that had typically prided itself in “flying under the radar.” That was no longer possible after a prominent news story that alleged criminal behavior on the part of individuals formerly associated with the company. The CEO got to us via a referral and we quickly let him know when we would be available to meet within 24 hours to begin designing an internal and external (namely to employees and customers) response to the article and allegations. We stressed to him the sense of urgency that is imperative in such a situation. But he just wasn’t feeling it. He said he would “talk to some other firms” and “make a decision next week.” We let him know that we will respect his decision, but, based on experience, he did not have that kind of time. Several weeks have passed and we haven’t heard anything. Maybe he’s out of a job?
When the stakes are high and the clock, to use a quickly-antiquating term, is ticking, you don’t have time to shop around. You may think that will save money, but dragging things out will likely be more costly. If you don’t already have a relationship with a communications resource experienced in “bad news,” you need to act fast in a crisis. First, admit you are in crisis, or could be soon. Then, find someone you trust (lawyers are often helpful in these situations) to recommend someone they know and trust. Then, get to work.
The old saying is that reputations take a long time to build but they can crumble very quickly. It’s true.