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Lead From the Front: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Handling a Business Crisis

by Olufisayo
business crisis

Each day the news is filled with stories of some of our generation’s most successful businesses facing some of the toughest challenges. A business crisis is not always predictable, nor are they controllable, yet if mishandled, they have the power to shut your doors forever. 

The general public is a fickle beast, and they will turn and run at the first signs of instability. And while you are unable to predict the type of crisis you will face, you can be prepared as to how you will respond. Let’s take a quick look at how creating a response plan ahead of time can help save you and your company a significant headache.

Identify The Real Business Crisis

Often the problem you think is the problem is not actually the problem. In today’s society of instant access to information, “perception is a reality,” so you must look at your crisis and identify what it is your audience is upset about. 

There is always the actual issue at hand causing the problem, but then there are the ripples that occur because of the problem. There is no way you can address every single person individually; however, you can group mass amounts of people into categories: the general public, business partners, employees, vendors, and the media.

It can be challenging to listen to the concerns and gripes that everyone has, after all, who likes to listen to people criticizing the way they handle their business, but in all honesty, that is precisely what you need to do. Find out what the people are saying. Find out what each group’s real concerns are and then tailor your responses to resolve those issues. 

Who’s on First

One of the worst things you can do in a business crisis is not to have a designated person to be speaking on behalf of the company. Know before a disaster happens who is going to be the face of your response. Sure, right now, when things are coasting along nicely, you might think planning such a thing is a waste of time, but when the inevitable happens, you need to have one person that is at the forefront speaking to the public and to your employees. 

Choose someone approachable.

During times of crisis, the public (and your employees) will already be on edge, often veering towards accusatory at times. It’s human nature when we are threatened or senses some form of danger for us to react, so combat it with a friendly face the public can trust.

Choose someone who is tenured.

This duty often goes to the tenured employee that works with both upper management and entry-level workers. Often it is they who have built a rapport and can diplomatically answer questions without seeming to be hiding information. 

You want someone who is tenured as they will carry with them a sense of authority that is respected. During a time of crisis, optics are everything. 

Choose someone who is well-spoken under pressure.

This spokesperson needs to remain clear and concise in their responses. They are as transparent and open as they can be without divulging too much information. Their voice must be consistent among all channels of communication: news reports, interviews, and social media channels. Each and every channel must convey the same message. Any deviation from the explanation and the public could catch it and turn on you in ways you never imagined. 

In a Business Crisis, Protect Employees

For many executives, there are those on your workforce who wake up daily with the sole purpose of working under your vision. They trust your judgment and your leadership. They are the day to day face of your company and should be respected as such. Each day your team represents you, and as they go about their lives, people will ask them questions associated with any business crisis—make sure they are prepared to answer. 

Keep Them Informed

During a business crisis, always keep your employees informed of what is going on in a manner that is most efficient. Workers should know information just before the media, and they should hear it directly from their leadership. There is nothing worse for an employee than being left in the dark about something that is affecting their livelihood. 

Trust Their Loyalty 

Employee loyalty begins long before a crisis event. In fact, keeping your employees loyal and happy during a time of crisis begins the day they are hired.  If you take care of your employees by providing a good salary, fantastic benefits, and a workplace where they feel valued when a crisis hits, they will be your biggest cheerleader. 

Don’t Forget The Vendors

Business to business relationships are of the utmost importance and must be protected at all costs. Just as you would fiercely safeguard your brand, other companies feel the same regarding their brands, and no one wants to be associated with those who handle themselves poorly or conduct bad business.  

Imagine working in the oil industry. You are at the top of your game, and business is booming. Then one morning, you turn on the news and see that a business you just partnered with is responsible for a massive oil spill that could have been prevented. You might start to second guess your relationship with that particular company. 

Imagine if your the CEO who has to explain to his business partners why such a tragedy occurred. Why didn’t the company address it sooner? Why weren’t preventative measures put into place? The relationship between businesses hinges on the answer to each question. 

You do not want your partners or other vital businesses, learning about your impending crisis from the media. Get out ahead of the problem so they can better prepare their team for how they should answer if approached with the subject. 

Update Often

During a time of business crisis, people will be on edge. Their nerves will be shot, and their thoughts will spiral into the worst of the worst-case scenarios. They will image the entire operation imploding, the building crumbling, and the sky falling. It’s best to stay out ahead of these concerns. 

Avoid arguing and appearing defensive.

Create a list of possible questions everyone will have based on their category: employee, customer, business partner, vendor, etc. If your company is large enough, assign a point person for each group, but if you do this, make sure to keep your point people up to date regularly. 

Keep in mind that no response looks like you have something to hide. Keep your updates solutions-based, and avoid placing the blame. There is a lot to be said for those who admit there was an error. 

Know When To Call The Calvery

There are many jobs that can be handled in house. There is some crisis that can be handled in-house; however, when the storm surrounding the crisis becomes too big to manage, then it’s time to call in a reputable public relations firm. It’s their job to help businesses manage the aftermath of bad decisions. 

Often when a business crisis takes on a large scale outcry from the public, its best to refer to the professionals. If you attempt to apologize or make amends and the message falls flat, it can only make matters worse. 

Everyone remembers the incident back in 2017 when United Airlines forcefully removed a passenger from a flight. The altercation ended up with the passenger bloodied, and within a few hours, a video of the incident went viral. In an attempt to apologize, United Airlines released an apology via social media that seemed disingenuous to the general population and thus added fuel to the fire.  

It took another four days for United Airlines to respond with an apology video from the CEO of the airline, personally apologizing for the actions during that incident. Four days was much too long to wait to reply, and at this point, the damage was done. A slew of memes was already circulating, making fun of United Airlines, thus influencing the next generation of potential frequent fliers. 

The Calm After The Storm

The storm has passed, and the public relations nightmare is now over. You can breathe a sigh of relief that you and your company are still left standing—so now what? Where do you go from here?

The moves you make after a crisis are just as important as the ones you make during it. This is where the understanding of what truly happened comes into play, and you are able to change the conversation regarding your companies image. 

Managing Expectations

If the crisis was big enough, then it’s going to take some time to bounce back. This is to be expected. Once the cyclone of news media has moved on to the next big pr disaster at another company down the street, you can sit back and evaluate the damages. 

During the recovery process, implement a crisis recovery plan that utilizes S.M.A.R.T goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-specific). There are many things that can occur during a business crisis, including supply chain disruptions that can alter when customers receive their products, loss of employees, which can disturb how quickly issues are resolved. Letting your customers know what to expect is key to the recovery process. 

Improve Positive SEO

Once the recovery mode is in full swing, you will need to jump into damage control. Google your companies name, keywords, etc., and you will find that the news that is pulled up isn’t so great. This is where a stellar team of search engine optimizers like those at SEOExplode and content producers will come in handy. 

They can get started on helping to change the conversation online. Think of them as your online public relations team. They can create content based on the positive efforts the company is implementing and how wonderful things are going. Over time the negative content that is showing up in Google will get pushed further down the page rankings, and the positive information will rise to the top. Those on social media and other content outlets will forget about the crisis and focus solely on what made the company great in the first place. 

Change Your Approach

Whatever was going on when the crisis hit- stop doing it and change your approach! Ed Stack, the CEO of Dicks Sporting Good’s is a prime example of such a method. When assault rifles became a hot topic due to the rise of mass shootings, many stores were forced to look at whether or not they would continue to sell them amidst the public outcry against such weapons. 

Stack took a stand and announced that his store would no longer be a part of that conversation, and he removed all assault rifles from his locations. Sure the move was risky, but it paid off. 

Take Notes!

Now that you can breathe take some time and examine what happened before, during, and after the crisis. What caused it, what worked, and equally what didn’t work during it. Having these notes will help you prepare your crisis plan for the next round of issues because while you may not want to admit it if your business is around for a long time, there may be many bumps along the journey. Keeping detailed notes on each crisis helps you know what to expect the next time. 

There is no real way to stop a crisis from occurring. Often it’s something that beyond your scope of control; however, you can control how you react. With the proper reaction, you can help minimize the damage and alleviate the time it takes to overcome such issues. 

The point is always to be prepared for a business crisis. Many business leaders say that people will do business with those that they know, like, and trust, so when those things are tested, it’s good to know that if you lead through empathy and keep the lines of communication open, then every relationship is salvageable. 

For more information on how you can be a better best business leader, check out our website for more ways to help you lead successfully. 

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