Learning from your crisis

Your company has just endured a crisis? Good for you.

Your company has just endured a crisis? Good for you.

There's no question that dealing with a crisis can be a challenging and incredibly nerve-wracking experience, causing stressful days and sleepless nights. The event likely pulled your firm into the spotlight and may have brought attention that you didn't want or need. There may be damage to the company's reputation, its financial position, or its competitive stance. And thanks to the internet, the public record of your statements and actions will last forever.

And yet, as difficult as crisis communications can be, you've been given an opportunity.

In the wake of a crisis, companies have the rare opportunity to go back and review the performance of the company under real-world stress – looking closely at the practices and policies that caused it, the unexpected impacts, or the responses that failed to avert the situation. It's a chance to examine, learn, and improve.

This post-crisis examination calls for a unique level of detachment, however. The company must objectively view its operations, its decision-making, its relationships, its commitment to values, and its internal and external communications. Discussions need to rise above the “blame game” to an honest assessment of what worked, what didn't – and in the future—what will and what won't. The company may want to consider an outside facilitator – an industry expert, an agency executive, or an academic -- to pose the tough questions and keep the dialogue constructive.    

Your crisis probably highlighted the firm's external relationships. The good news on this front: You've had a front row seat to see how your stakeholders and critics think, how they react, how they work. You may have some relationships you didn't before – regulators, public officials, NGOs – creating a new opportunity to engage and detail how you intend to recover and rebuild.  At this moment, you have stakeholders' attention; show your new transparency and commitment to engagement.  

As communicators, we often focus on “coming out the other end” of the crisis, but even when the crisis has passed, the lesson learning and reputation-building really begin. Learn from your crisis and let it make you a better company.

Mark Shadle is EVP and MD of corporate affairs at Zeno Group.

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