In Crisis Management

May 2014

When crisis hits, your employees suffer.  When it’s time for recovery they are your most powerful weapon.  The LA Clippers provided us with the most recent and dramatic proof of that.  When the crisis involving their owner, Donald Sterling, hit its peak, players were talking about boycotting the game.  They demonstrated their shame at their owner’s actions by refusing to go into Game 4 wearing the Clippers’ logo.  They also lost that playoff game against the Golden State Warriors, 97-118.  But hours after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s announcement of major sanctions against Sterling, they won with pride under the banner of “We Are One.”

Those players personify the emotions and role of employees along the path from crisis to recovery.  If the LA Clippers have a good crisis communications manager he or she will start mobilizing those employees as community ambassadors, bringing the message of recovery to their fans and their community.

When it comes to recovering from a crisis, employees are your secret weapon.  Make them a part of your rebuilding effort and you’re harnessing the power of your most ardent stakeholders.  After all, stakeholders are the folks who care whether your organization lives or dies.  Who has a more important stake in that than your employees?

During a crisis, companies often become preoccupied with what “they” are saying.  “They” are the people outside the organization’s walls.  What are “they” saying on Twitter?  Are “they” blowing up the company’s Facebook page with their vitriol?  Are reporters digging up past wrongdoings from 1998?  Are they camped on the doorstep trying to interview disgruntled customers?  It’s enough to make anyone feel like they are under siege.  And it’s often the reason that all the attention is concentrated on an outward focus.

But what about those in-house?  How are they holding up?  What are you doing to nurture them?  And how well are you focused on keeping them up-to-date on your efforts to deal with the crisis?

You may balk at the word “nurture”, but that’s exactly what’s called for in a crisis.  Most employees take their jobs personally.  Remember the LA Clippers.  Like all employees, they have a loyalty to the team.  They revel in their identity with it.  An attack on their employer often feels like it’s personal.

We once worked for a nonprofit healthcare organization that was the victim of a nasty story about their care of a patient.  The story was cultivated by an agency that had lost the contract to provide care in the area.  It was brutal.  It characterized the condition of their client (a man who repeatedly refused their care) in the most disturbing and graphic terms.  When the story hit the news, the employees in that organization were actually sobbing in the hallways.  They took the attack on their agency as a personal affront to the care they provided.  It hurt.  They were devastated.

So, what does this mean to an organization like the LA Clippers that needs to rebuild its relationship with its stakeholders?  We’re already seeing it.  They are harnessing the emotional stake their employees have with the team.  You’ll see it in Doc Rivers’ remarks before Game 5.  They were already heading down the road to recovery by reminding people who they are.  Check out their website for proof.

What can your organization do to make sure you harness your employees during a crisis?  It starts as soon as you begin fighting that crisis.  Consider your employees to be one of your key target audiences every step of the way.  Let them know the details of your strategy for dealing with the crisis.  Make sure they get every public communications you put out.  Sending out a press release?  They need to see it.  Posting updates on your website?  Let them know.  Promoting your side of the story via Facebook and Twitter?  Make sure they are following your social media.

While only PR people should be talking to media, employees are the ones who will carry the message to the community.  Give them three to five simplified talking points so they will have ammunition for conversations when someone stops them in front of the cantaloupes at Stop & Shop.  Arm them with easy explanations of your recovery efforts for their social media posts.  And keep them up-to-date on your long-range plans for rebuilding public trust.

Commissioner Silver’s news conference gave the LA Clippers a first step in their crisis recovery.  Like every other organizations rebuilding after a crisis, it will be the members of the team who will take it to the hoop as they rebuild their reputation.  There’s a lesson in that for us all.





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