The COVID-19 pandemic has understandably spurred renewed conversation around business crisis management. This, pertaining to how to better plan for and preempt unforeseen disruptions as well as aptly navigate through the mire when perilous challenges present and, optimally, emerge on the other side stronger than the business was before.
The problem with much of the current discourse — and rest assured there’s an overabundance to be found — is that it largely regurgitates mindsets and methodologies that are underwhelming in today’s complex macro-economic climate, at best, and that have been rendered entirely antiquated given current conditions at worst. Novel challenges like coronavirus demand commensurately fresh ideation — most certainly that intend to help organizations large and small survive and succeed amid today’s brand of chaos.
With this in mind, I turned to Kiya Dowdy Frazier and Oscar Frazier, principles at nDemand Consulting, a global crisis management firm that designs and implements leading-edge techniques helping federal government agencies, heads of state, corporations and entrepreneurial small businesses maneuver through and beyond menacing circumstances. This includes countering violent extremism (CVE) across seven countries within the continent of Africa.
Affectionately known as the Mr. and Mrs. Smith of crisis management, team Frazier offers three modern crisis management techniques in this article that, while somewhat counterintuitive, are duly compelling and convincingly sensible.
Gaining trust isn’t enough
Gaining marketplace trust, building relationships and even securing leads require radically different approaches in today’s 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 there are credibility concerns — fear and defensiveness take over as the default operating system, and individuals put up their guards. Here is a reframe: The ability to gain trust isn’t entirely futile, but rather it’s 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 impacts or otherwise. So, be empathetic, approachable and forthcoming about your own challenges and experiences. That level of vulnerability — demonstrating that you are just as concerned and affected as the person you’re meeting — is a highly effective way to build trust.
Prior to coronavirus 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 that you can relate to them and they to you in kind. Being able to identify with one another will be the lifeblood of successful businesses.
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 of data. 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 we’ve done. 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 both short- and long-term modernization is key to survival. But, in this new environment, we have to find ways to do more with less in the here and now. Fewer resources, fewer shots to take and different methods of communication — even within a company’s own teams — is paramount. Data, good or bad, is a lifeline here, 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. But 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; 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 part and parcel 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.
Messaging methodologies miss the mark
Validation-driven micro-communication is now where it’s at. Rather than just asserting positioning and talking points, companies need to demonstrate the impact of their 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 ever-mindful that there’s increased awareness of — and desire for — community, connection, humility and social responsibility that should now underpin most, if not all, communications in this post-pandemic era.
Companies must also make a concerted effort to control their messages across all platforms, including social media, where information (and misinformation) spreads quickly. Conveying the right words with the right tone and with the proper imagery is what’s required.
“The very thought of the word ‘crisis’ tends to spur a sense of panic,” Kiya Frazier says. “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 and core crisis a 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,” Oscar Frazier adds. “This is the single biggest mistake a company in crisis can make, since processing data objectively is key. Situation analysis requires taking a cold, 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 may deliver diminishing returns as industry and markets evolve in tandem with public health and political and socioeconomic events. Even undertaking the three tactical strategies mentioned in this article can foster the kind of progressive paradigm shift required to help companies best weather those inevitable and seemingly omnipresent storms.
Forbes Business Council Member Merilee Kern, MBA, is an internationally-regarded brand analyst, strategist and futurist who reports on noteworthy industry changemakers, movers, shakers and innovators across all B2B and B2C categories. This includes field experts and thought leaders, brands, products, services, destinations and events. She is founder, executive editor and producer of “The Luxe List” as well as host of the nationally-syndicated “Savvy Living” TV show. Connect with her at www.TheLuxeList.com and www.SavvyLiving.tv as well as on Instagram @LuxeListReports, on Twitter @LuxeListReports, on Facebook @LuxeListReports and on LinkedIn @MerileeKern.