In Crisis Management, Reputation

December 2014 cartoonThe most dangerous time is the aftermath of any crisis. That’s when everyone is trying to put it behind them, move on and pretend it never happened.

Once you’ve lived through a crisis all you want is to be done with it. Who can blame you? You’ve spent some of the most painful days of your life dodging tweets, reporters, angry customers and cranky board members. “How could you let this happen?” they all demand.

You’ve had no sleep. No ability to do any meaningful work and even the dog barks at you because he thinks you’re an intruder in your own home. Who wouldn’t want to forget the whole thing and get back to real life?

But you can’t. To quote a former US President (who knew more about crisis than he should have), “…the most dangerous period is the aftermath. It is then, with all his resources spent and his guard down, that an individual must watch out.” (Ten points goes to anyone who guessed that was – wait for it – Richard Nixon!) 

Much as it pains me to agree with “Tricky Dicky”, I have to admit he had a point. Everyone wants to live through, get past and forget the trauma of a crisis. But it’s not that simple. And it often takes longer to get past the crisis than e it took to live through it. The reality is that you’re far from done when the heat is turned down. That’s because the public judges the fiber of your institution by the way they see you behaving under fire and while the ashes are cooling. It is then that the smart companies start aggressively taking back control of their reputations and regaining the public trust. It’s also when you must start rebuilding employee morale. Remember they are also tired and bruised from the experience. Organizations that do this right set the stage for future success. They rise from the ashes, many times stronger in the public eye for the way they regroup and bounce back.

If an organization doesn’t take control of their own reputation after a crisis, you can bet someone else will do it for them. Think Ferguson, MO. Or Roger Goddell. Or even Penn State. Who would want to be associated with any of these?

Building a successful post-crisis strategy is based on an understanding of those who matter to you and the questions they are asking. These include:

  • —  Is it true?
  • —  Who’s responsible?
  • —  Was it intentional?
  • —  Could it happen again?
  • —  What does it say about your organization? 

Whether you (or your legal folks) can or should directly answer these questions is a matter for discussion. Every crisis has its own long-term implications. What I’m advocating here, though, is that you remain cognizant of what’s on the minds of your stakeholders long after the initial OMG phase of a crisis. And that you use that knowledge to build your long-term recovery plans.

And, while there is no formula for post-crisis success, here are a few steps that we’ve found to be most useful: 

  • —  Acknowledge the issue and the mistakes that caused it
  • —  Accept responsibility for your role
  • —  Show how you plan to repair the damage
  • —  Help those impacted
  • —  Keep your promises
  • —  Rebuild bridges with stakeholders
  • —  Communicate openly and transparently
  • —  Commit to and communicate about meaningful change.
  • —  Monitor the conversation through traditional and social media
  • —  Respond meaningfully, compassionately and with concern to posts that move the conversation forward
  • —  Avoid celebrating the end too soon
  • —  Provide updates on recovery long after you think they are necessary
  • —  Demonstrate that your focus has returned to your core business
  • —  Engage in aggressive actions that rebuild trust through PR, social and paid ad campaigns.

This post started with a quote from a most unlikely source – a disgraced president. It ends with another odd source for advice: The Master of the Malaprop – Yogi Berra. The man known for mangling the English language man once quite brilliantly said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” I’m suggesting he didn’t go far enough. I’m saying, “It ain’t over till it’s way over.”

We wish all of our fellow Crisis Ruminators a safe, joyful and crisis-free holiday season.

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