|Katherine Bosley, Angela Hoague and Kylie Munnelly co-authored this article.
When leaders confront challenges, numerous competing imperatives can get in the way of effective decision-making and can also have an outsized impact on reputation and brand.
An organization’s culture plays a large role in determining outcomes. At mission-critical moments—whether it’s a crisis, a potential crisis or a major inflection point for an organization—it’s important to keep organizations and stakeholders—including executive teams and employees—on track and focused on key business objectives. Leaders faced with steering organizations through turbulent times must be equipped to zoom in when needed to weigh in on tactics, bolster important relationships and offer tangible empathy and accountability to key stakeholders, notably workforces. And yet, if leaders aren’t able to zoom out and see the bigger picture as well, they risk being dragged into siloes, without the tools necessary to be able to properly contextualize decisions. The cultural attributes that equip leaders and organizations to be most successful in challenging times can be summed up in one word: resilience.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jan. '22 Crisis Communications & PR Buyer's Guide Magazine
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In our experience, we’ve found that effective crisis response strategies must be delicately crafted in order to mitigate risks and maintain a company’s business objectives, while also seizing unique opportunities to achieve goals, engage valued stakeholders, drive key narratives or change ongoing misconceptions. Our approach is based on seeking out the most resilient aspects of organizations and their leaders, which often means fusing communications and legal teams to ensure that efforts to address potential or real challenges are not only coordinated but also authentic and based on “in real life” organizational values and actions, while at the same time, ensuring that organizations are able to maintain business as usual. With the combined expertise, focus and skillsets of legal and communications teams, it’s possible to create a thoroughly resilient culture and tools needed to support leaders, so that organizational value and reputation is protected.
One additional core component of a resilient culture is the ability to create a response architecture that can stand up and execute multi-dimensional engagement strategies for important stakeholders, including shareholders, policymakers and regulators, partners, end-users, the media, courts and consumers. There should also be a continued focus on conveying strong, positive and reaffirming messages—being unafraid of change when needed—and emphasizing resilience.
Resilient rapid response: a dynamic decision-making platform
Another core component of a resilient culture involves the ways in which an organization provides a platform for decision-making amongst its team members and executives. When navigating a major decision point or a crisis, leaders and organizations turn to a wide array of external and in-house advisors. Building and listening to a team of issues experts with relevant legal, regulatory, communications, public affairs and/or management experience is crucial to being proactive instead of reactive.
An effective infrastructure should be designed to be nimble and smart and to address nuances and cultural mores of the organization, its leadership team and its advisors. The concept of a “war room” is often associated with managing a crisis, yet what is essential about the concept is the coordination between decision-makers resulting in shared priorities and clear action. There should be a dynamic, always-on platform that enables experts and leaders to receive boundless information, triage imperatives, align around decisions and execute in real-time.
This kind of coordination is even more effective when there is cultural muscle memory for it, drawing on established practices and dependable roles. Organizations and leadership teams that maintain this kind of regular coordination are often more effective at addressing challenges or overcoming hurdles. Adequately preparing for risk is therefore the most effective strategy. This preparation includes performing routine assessments and refining strategies to address team roles, responsibilities and core capabilities, notification and information-gathering processes, decision-making processes and execution benchmarks.
Finally, true resilience requires maintaining trust with valued stakeholders, from employees and board members to partners, public officials, regulators, the media and the general public. The foundation for trust is established through the ways in which decision-makers communicate.
A critical component of this kind of engagement are validators. There’s tremendous value in developing and deploying external trusted voices, including voices that are unexpected but also knowledgeable and reassuring, who can reach through to stakeholders during moments of challenge. A resilient team doesn’t wait for a potential crisis to arise before establishing a cadre of trusted voices. Rather, they’re constantly growing and nurturing this stable of individuals to ensure that they are properly informed and supported at any time should they need to be deployed.
Trusted voices can take multiple forms. They can be individual validators who offer unique insights and personal perspectives that shed light on a company’s culture, decision-making, leadership or values. They can also be subject matter experts who provide useful context about a particular development and help bridge information gaps for stakeholders who may be confronted with new and unfamiliar circumstances. In moments of challenge, trusted external voices help reinforce the trust established by decision-makers. They can help clarify misconceptions, tamp down rumors and add broader context to complicated situations.
Organizations going through one of the most complex crisis landscapes—high profile litigation—too often underutilize one of their most trusted external voices: in-house or outside counsel. Any matter involving the court system can add layers of rules around communication that may be foreign and confusing to key stakeholders. In these moments, trusted external voices can help maintain stakeholder trust. And what better expert to explain complex legal territory than an attorney from an in-house legal team or as a trusted outside counsel? These team members can play a key role in setting a resilient tone and posture during high-pressure, high-stakes moments.
Katherine Bosley, Angela Hoague and Kylie Munnelly are Senior Directors at The Levinson Group (TLG).