Many companies navigate the routine complexity of business with adequate or acceptable managem
ent, however it is the truly stellar company/s that excel not only on a routine basis but especially in times of crisis. It is select skills, experience and traits that are able to applied during times of critical decision-making that separate them from the herd. Specific skills and attributes are not something that can be learnt in the minutes and seconds required in order to apply to a critical decision making process but are acquired and developed over many years and supported by advanced processes and tools.
To understand the best-in-class for corporate crisis management and decision-making we need to consider a number of things. Given that the timeliness of response is often predicated on how little time is wasted on logistical or bureaucratic processes before getting to a point of action, therefore companies with existing policy and procedure that is both rehearsed and updated, put themselves in the top 10 to 20% immediately. This element is certainly not a significant contributor to their success our outcome. Second, the quality of information on which decision-makers and leaders are basing their actions upon. This information alone does not comes from traditional sources such as television and paper it increasingly is inclusive of social media. The voices of many, albeit nonofficial, can have a significant impact on the outcome of the overall damage/survivability of an incident faced by a company.
The best-in-class companies not only acknowledge social media but have means of tapping into influencing and monitoring all social media channels as required, not just in times of crisis but on a routine basis. Lastly and most significantly it’s the character of the individuals that fill the functions within a crisis or communications plan. It’s this area will look in more depth to determine the requirements attributes and success factors as crisis management is seldom the catalyst for success or failure but that of crisis leadership.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s groundbreaking book The Tipping Point he mentions three significant class of character that are an important influence on social trends and epidemics. These three main character traits are also vital if not pivotal in the success of corporate communications and crisis response. Companies that lack or fail to identify and leverage from these key character and personality traits fall far behind the best of class and most innovative companies. These character traits and abilities are not governed by job title position or function they are skills possessed within a person and therefore should be leveraged in accordance with the skills to the desired outcome rather than relying on a predefined job title or function within the company. These three character traits are 1. Connectors. 2. Mavens and 3. Persuaders. In very rare instances one or more of these skill sets may be founded in a single person but any one person shouldn’t be relied upon in adding depth to any team, which is always sound practice.
What makes someone a connector? The first–and most obvious–criteria is that connectors know a lot of people. They are kinds of people who know everyone
No great team has all the solutions nor knows all of the information, however is vitally important that the team have access to an individual or group of individuals that can connect to all the known and possible resources in a short-as-possible time period. Connectors as such are fantastic networkers with not only huge personal networks but also plug into other complementary networkers or fellow connectors that maybe industry, technical, media or stakeholder orientated. They can aide immensely in benchmarking or calibrating the sentiment of particular decisions/actions or even the most appropriate channel to make sure that their message is heard clear and concisely with the required outcome.
Every company should have at least one connector in a crisis or communications team or one that can be called upon quickly and effectively. It should be painfully evident this is not the type of skill or network that is built up overnight and therefore can’t be expected to be turned on by the flick of a switch; it may take years if not decades to develop and refine.
Second of the three kinds of people who control the work of mouth epidemics are a Maven. The word Maven comes from Yiddish, and it means one who accumulates knowledge
Mavens are active if not and borderline fanatics in their collection of information relative to a specific discipline or social scenario. Once again it’s essential that corporate decision-makers and crisis management teams include such knowledge collectors. Some companies may have them within their own organic structure or call upon them as part of their service providers or trusted advisors, in some instances even board members. Mavens may manifest in many shapes, forms, gender and age but they are very quickly identifiable by their sheer depth of knowledge and cross-referencing ability to join problems with solutions. A single conversation with an effective Maven may save corporate decision-makers hours if not weeks of procrastination and circular discussions.
Mavens are teachers, Connectors are conduits but neither may be Persuaders and the reality is that some people are actually going to have to be persuaded to do something, this is the role of the persuader. A Persuader is not a snake-oil salesman, although many very effective salesmen and communicators are Persuaders. Persuaders are able to influence through their tone of voice, their physical appearance, their social observations, their empathy towards listeners or just in the way and manner they use all of the skills to communicate their particular message. Many famous politicians, while drawing criticism for their lack of knowledge and other skills, have been exceptional persuaders. Not advocating the requirement for “empty vessels” but persuaders have a rare and unique talent to be able to communicate and influence people to do something, that something being consistent with your objectives. It is a very dangerous process to use any of the identified skills and characteristics in the roles in which they’re not suited, in particular the use of a persuader in a lesser role or not that of an influencer.
Many can now probably identify these key character traits and how successful they have been in routine and critical environments. However, it should be of major concern if you can not identify these traits within your own corporate crisis and communications team. Additionally if you have a total absence of any-and-all of the skill sets within your corporate crisis and communications team. You may survive the day to day routine rigors of business but survivability rate when exposed to critical incidences without these key elements is very poor. Even worse are those that assume that job titles within the company or even gender have imparted these skills upon each and every one of their senior executives is a gross oversight. The question remains can you identify these assets or can you contact them on your worst day? Your survival may very well depend on it one day.
1 The tipping point by Malcolm Gladwell chapter 1–The three rules of epidemics, page 38
2 The tipping point by Malcolm Gladwell chapter 1–The three rules of epidemics, page 60