Business Communications and Executive Presence
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JWI 505 Business Communications and Executive Presence
WEEK 7: CRISIS COMMUNICATION Communicating in a Crisis In 1993, somebody in Washington state claimed to have found a syringe in a can of Diet Pepsi. The next week, there were 50 more reports of product tampering involving Pepsi cans… It was all a hoax! According to Kim Bhasin, writing for Business Insider, PepsiCo’s management responded brilliantly to the crisis (which could have endangered, even destroyed, the brand in the United States and around the world).
“PepsiCo didn’t make vague statements telling the public to simply trust it,” Bhasin writes. Instead, PepsiCo responded aggressively in its own defense. It “produced four videos throughout the crisis, such as a comprehensive report on its soda canning process.
The most compelling was a surveillance tape of a woman in a Colorado store putting a syringe into a can of Diet Pepsi behind the store clerk’s back.” Perhaps most importantly, PepsiCo’s North American CEO, Craig Weatherup, took the company’s message directly to the news. He appeared on multiple news stations and on Nightline, armed with visual evidence of the faked product tampering.
The FDA backed PepsiCo, and the product tampering scandal was quickly squashed. PepsiCo’s sales, which had declined by two percent, recovered in just a month. Can you imagine addressing a board of directors, or the employees of your company, in the moments after you’ve been told that someone found a dirty hypodermic needle in your world-famous beverage?
That is the essence of organizational crisis communication: taking control during a serious problem, relating information during a crisis or in the wake of a tragedy, and steering an organization back on course after something that could threaten the entire company has gone awry. Thankfully, most of us will never have to manage an organizational crisis situation.
If you do, you will probably encounter only one or two of these major issues over the course of your career. All good leaders, however, have at least one or two workplace crises in a given year. If you are doing what it takes to win and grow, it is inevitable that you will encounter these situations. We’re talking about crises like:
- Mistakenly selecting Reply All when your comments are not intended for an entire group
- Filling a non-diesel company car with diesel
- Circulating a report through the whole company that has incorrect information
- Mistakenly sending an internal pricing document to a vendor or customer
- Sending a proposal to a customer with another customer’s name in it • Witnessing an employee get seriously injured or even killed on the job
- Watching an employee be arrested at work • Managing the aftermath of a facility fire
JWI 505: Business Communications and Executive Presence Lecture Notes
None of these issues threatens the long-term health of the entire organization, but they are still serious. When faced with a crisis, you may be tempted to take one of two actions based on an emotional fear response that triggers the fight or flight impulse:
- You may want to fight.
We have all seen leaders who gave in to this impulse. Maybe they immediately denied any wrongdoing, loudly denounced their accusers, and played strong defense to shut down the negative inputs. There are many reasons this may not be the most effective response.
Passion is important in leadership, but you don’t want to have to retract a hasty statement. You also don’t want to add fuel to the fire through unfounded claims or emotional outbursts.
- You may want to take flight, or run away from the problem.
Booking meetings all day so you are unavailable for comment, visiting a remote location, or otherwise avoiding a confrontation is not how an effective leader manages a crisis. This is avoidance and nothing more. The problem will still be there when you finally get around to confronting it … and it may have grown much worse while you ignored or avoided it.
Crisis communication is, at its core, very similar to any other important business communication. All the best practices of clear and consistent messaging, relentless repetition, and listening while accepting feedback are vital to successful crisis communication with your relevant audiences and stakeholders.
Communication within the organization and among stakeholder groups, to ensure shared understanding and alignment of efforts, is essential. An effective message strategy is especially important when a crisis poses a threat to your reputation, your career, or your company.
Step-by-Step: Communicating in a Crisis Speed is critical in all crisis situations. Do not let the situation get ahead of you. When presented with a crisis, proceed according to these general guidelines:
Assume the worst You must prepare for the worst-case scenario. This means assuming the situation is not contained and could impact the organization, your colleagues, and your clients in the worst possible way. By planning for the worst, you stay ahead of the situation.
Understand that there are no secrets You cannot afford to assume you can hide the crisis. Everyone will find out everything eventually.
Come clean, quickly and honestly, and communicate what has happened with integrity and honesty. Apologize if necessary and offer to make the issue right. Be transparent and share all information. Construct your key messages carefully and, if a crisis is prolonged, be prepared to communicate regularly throughout.
In every crisis, then, to communicate effectively, you must:
- Understand the problem • Own the problem • Offer genuine regret • Offer solutions that demonstrate your employees and your clients come first
Always be honest about what you do not know when communicating in a crisis. You can’t make something up, and you can’t afford to say something incorrect that you will have to retract later. Never allow your shame, fear, or worry to overshadow your empathy for the audience.
You Will Be Judged During and After a Crisis Understand that how you handle a crisis will always be judged by both your audience and by those external to the situation. Take, for example, the infamous case in which the pizza company DiGiorno misused a Twitter hashtag related to domestic violence.
The hashtag was #WhyIStayed. It came about in reaction to NFL player Ray Rice’s much-publicized domestic violence issues with his wife, Janay. Whoever was in charge of DiGiorno’s Twitter account used the hashtag to write, “#WhyIStayed: You Had Pizza.” Reaction to this critical gaffe was vehement.
The mishap made national news. DiGiorno was made to look either stupid or insensitive. To their credit, however, they immediately deleted the tweet and explained how they made a mistake. Their exact Twitter statement read, “A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting.”
This reaction is a good illustration of quickly and honestly getting ahead of a crisis situation. DiGiorno did not claim to have been hacked, did not make weasel-word laden statements filled with bland apologies, and did not blame the employee who made the tweet. They simply and honestly explained that they hadn’t bothered to check.
Many Twitter users have made this mistake and could easily relate to it. Because how you handle a crisis will always be judged, however, there were those who were not impressed. Some Twitter users accepted the apology, while others called it too little too late. But the end result was that
JWI 505: Business Communications and Executive Presence Lecture Notes
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DiGiorno, through fast, honest, direct communication, was able to put the problem behind them relatively quickly. How you handle a crisis will never satisfy everyone. You will receive positive and negative feedback during and after a crisis. What matters is how you and the organization weather the storm. If you can quickly and honestly put the crisis behind you and resolve the issue, you have communicated effectively.
What You Can and Can’t Do in a Crisis Throughout our discussion of business communication, we have stressed the need to build relationships. This is the one move you cannot make in a crisis. When a crisis occurs, you will value the solid relationship foundations you have already built on presence and integrity with those involved.
Be proactive in a crisis. Understand it, provide solutions, and focus on making sure it never happens again. Every crisis will produce change. How you survive that change determines whether you will learn from, and be stronger for having experienced, that crisis.
Crisis Communication Demands Your Best Self You must be your best, most authentic, most empathetic self during a crisis. You must listen and communicate at a time when the finances, reputation, and careers of your colleagues and stakeholders are on the line.
Candor and commitment to your values – doing what is right, quickly and honestly – are the only appropriate responses to a crisis. This is what your stakeholders will respond to most effectively, and this is what will allow you to weather the storm of a crisis while positioning your organization to win in the future.
QUALITY OF RESPONSE NO RESPONSE POOR / UNSATISFACTORY SATISFACTORY GOOD EXCELLENT Content (worth a maximum of 50% of the total points) Zero points: Student failed to submit the final paper. 20 points out of 50: The essay illustrates poor understanding of the relevant material by failing to address or incorrectly addressing the relevant content; failing to identify or inaccurately explaining/defining key concepts/ideas; ignoring or incorrectly explaining key points/claims and the reasoning behind them; and/or incorrectly or inappropriately using terminology; and elements of the response are lacking. 30 points out of 50: The essay illustrates a rudimentary understanding of the relevant material by mentioning but not full explaining the relevant content; identifying some of the key concepts/ideas though failing to fully or accurately explain many of them; using terminology, though sometimes inaccurately or inappropriately; and/or incorporating some key claims/points but failing to explain the reasoning behind them or doing so inaccurately. Elements of the required response may also be lacking. 40 points out of 50: The essay illustrates solid understanding of the relevant material by correctly addressing most of the relevant content; identifying and explaining most of the key concepts/ideas; using correct terminology; explaining the reasoning behind most of the key points/claims; and/or where necessary or useful, substantiating some points with accurate examples. The answer is complete. 50 points: The essay illustrates exemplary understanding of the relevant material by thoroughly and correctly addressing the relevant content; identifying and explaining all of the key concepts/ideas; using correct terminology explaining the reasoning behind key points/claims and substantiating, as necessary/useful, points with several accurate and illuminating examples. No aspects of the required answer are missing. Use of Sources (worth a maximum of 20% of the total points). Zero points: Student failed to include citations and/or references. Or the student failed to submit a final paper. 5 out 20 points: Sources are seldom cited to support statements and/or format of citations are not recognizable as APA 6th Edition format. There are major errors in the formation of the references and citations. And/or there is a major reliance on highly questionable. The Student fails to provide an adequate synthesis of research collected for the paper. 10 out 20 points: References to scholarly sources are occasionally given; many statements seem unsubstantiated. Frequent errors in APA 6th Edition format, leaving the reader confused about the source of the information. There are significant errors of the formation in the references and citations. And/or there is a significant use of highly questionable sources. 15 out 20 points: Credible Scholarly sources are used effectively support claims and are, for the most part, clear and fairly represented. APA 6th Edition is used with only a few minor errors. There are minor errors in reference and/or citations. And/or there is some use of questionable sources. 20 points: Credible scholarly sources are used to give compelling evidence to support claims and are clearly and fairly represented. APA 6th Edition format is used accurately and consistently. The student uses above the maximum required references in the development of the assignment. 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Structure of the Paper (worth 10% of total points) Zero points: Student failed to submit the final paper. 3 points out of 10: Student needs to develop better formatting skills. The paper omits significant structural elements required for and APA 6th edition paper. Formatting of the paper has major flaws. The paper does not conform to APA 6th edition requirements whatsoever. 5 points out of 10: Appearance of final paper demonstrates the student’s limited ability to format the paper. There are significant errors in formatting and/or the total omission of major components of an APA 6th edition paper. They can include the omission of the cover page, abstract, and page numbers. Additionally the page has major formatting issues with spacing or paragraph formation. Font size might not conform to size requirements. The student also significantly writes too large or too short of and paper 7 points out of 10: Research paper presents an above-average use of formatting skills. The paper has slight errors within the paper. This can include small errors or omissions with the cover page, abstract, page number, and headers. There could be also slight formatting issues with the document spacing or the font Additionally the paper might slightly exceed or undershoot the specific number of required written pages for the assignment. 10 points: Student provides a high-caliber, formatted paper. This includes an APA 6th edition cover page, abstract, page number, headers and is double spaced in 12’ Times Roman Font. Additionally, the paper conforms to the specific number of required written pages and neither goes over or under the specified length of the paper.
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Business Communications and Executive Presence
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