No employee, leader, or company wants to deal with a mistake, failure, or full-blown crisis. Often, leading an organization through a crisis can feel like navigating the Forbidden Forest; there is danger around every turn and with each choice you make, but there is also magic to be found. For many companies, a crisis itself won’t damage your reputation. In fact, it is a leader’s response to a crisis that can have a negative impact. A disaster, while disheartening, can be a moment of truth for your company. A crisis is an indication that something needs to be corrected or changed within your organization. A problem can give you insight into yourself as a leader, and how your company is functioning overall. Unprepared leaders often mismanage crises. Fortunately, we’ve prepared a great guide to help you navigate a full-blown crisis like the rock-star entrepreneur that you are!
Step One: Plan Ahead
Before your company even encounters a problem, create a crisis-management plan. While this may seem ominous, keep in mind that you may never have to use it. After all, it’s much better to be prepared than frantically scrambling to handle a potential branding disaster. To create an effective Crisis-Management Plan, answer the following questions:
Social Media? Press Releases? Website Announcements?
Step Two: Understand the Full Scope of the Crisis
Being prepared to handle a crisis is only half the battle, unfortunately. If the time comes to activate your crisis-management plan, it is important to understand the full scope of the problem that you are dealing with. You must analyze the situation at hand, and ascertain the facts quickly. You may be dealing with one of three types of crises:
Once you’ve identified the type of problem you are dealing with, and gathered the necessary data and facts, you must detail the potential impact of the crisis. Keep a cool head. Overreacting can do serious harm to your company’s image. This is a good time to pause and reflect on what you have learned. Take a walk for 15 to 20 minutes and step away from the problem. Think about the issue at hand. Give yourself distance from the situation and cool down. This will give you a better idea of how to tackle the problem. Allow your thoughts to lead with empathy for the customer, staff member, or member of the public that has brought the issue to light. Understand why they are upset, and put yourself in their shoes. Without empathy, your apology will sound insincere at best.
Step Three: Admit that You Have a Problem
Effective leaders always take responsibility for the problem, regardless of how far down the chain of command the issue occurred. The only way to move forward from a crisis is to acknowledge and accept that you, as the leader of the company, are responsible for the problem. Being honest and confronting hard truths about the breakdown within your organization is often the hardest part about successful leadership. True leaders are not only inspirational when things are going well, but are motivational in the face of a crisis as well.
As the leader of your company, you must communicate effectively about what the crisis entails, when you want to respond, how you want to respond, and why you are responding in the manner that you are. Transparency during a crisis is key to resolving the issue in a timely and effective manner, with the best results possible for your team and your brand. In addition to articulating your point of view clearly, it is vital that you actively listen to your team without bias or judgement. Make an effort to consider different perspectives from within your company. Navigating and resolving a crisis successfully is a collaborative effort.
Step Four: Act Quickly
Once you have identified and analyzed the crisis, it is important to act as quickly as possible to mitigate the negative impact on your brand. Craft an immediate, sincere, and apologetic response based on how you want your company to emerge from the crisis, even if you don’t know how you’re going to get there yet. Any delays in acknowledging your company’s failure, or a lack of apology, may be perceived as incompetent leadership, indifference to your customers, or a lack of empathy on behalf of your team.
Next, craft a strategic plan to address the problem you have identified. What is the message you want to convey to the public? First and foremost, apologize! Your response should identify and acknowledge your company’s failure, without being defensive or argumentative. Make sure to convey empathy and regret for the distress you have caused, and offer to make amends directly to your affected customers. Be honest, and do not lie or manipulate any facts of the situation. The truth will always come to light, and being caught in a lie will only compound the crisis. Outline the steps you are going to take to solve the problem for your clients, and promise that a similar issue will not happen again. This is also the right time to manage expectations for your customers; if the crisis is going to take a big organizational shift, make sure you are clear about how long it will take to see a meaningful change within your company. It is vital that any response to a crisis come directly from the leader of the company. If the crisis affects multiple customers, do your best to avoid copy and paste messages. Instead, craft unique responses that convey a sense of empathy to each of the clients that have been affected by the issue at hand.
Step Five: Learn from Your Mistakes
As daunting as managing a crisis may be, it will always give you the opportunity to learn and amplify your skills as a leader. A crisis can give you the chance to learn how to effectively manage your temper, and translate your emotions into problem-solving. Solving an issue that affects your company’s image gives you the ability to think strategically and proactively about your organization and the future of your company. Not only are you developing a new skill set, but a crisis almost always requires you, as a leader, to be flexible and adaptable to problems that may be piling up. Take a proactive approach to problem solving by letting go of processes that don’t work. Managing a crisis is all about learning new things, and using that new skill set to benefit the future of your business.
There is always a silver lining to effectively managing a crisis. Successful leaders plan ahead, analyze the facts, act quickly, and admit to, and learn from, their mistakes. A crisis gives you the opportunity to identify problems within your organization, and actively take steps to fix them. Effective leaders use crises as an opportunity to learn and grow, and hone a new skill set. With an effective crisis-management plan, you, too, can handle your next crisis like the boss that you are!
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