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by Gerald Baron: Crisis and emergency communication strategies

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Why "It's Not the Way We Do Things" kills crisis response
November 09, 2011
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Crisis management is inherently different from the way in which many organizations operate daily. When those organization seek to apply their culture and processes to the urgent demands of crisis response, things usually go very wrong. This is especially true if the culture and management philosophy is one steeped in collaboration, consultation, committees and collegiality.

Bill Boyd made this point very effectively in his recent post on his blog at "It's Not My Emergency." Education administrators operate typically in a very collegial fashion. Lots of committees, lots of discussion, slow decision making, and lots of fuss about almost any decision (I know, because I worked in this environment for four years). Apply this kind of process and culture to crisis response and you are in deep doo-doo.

But this response of "it's not the way we do things" doesn't just apply to universities. A recent discussion I had with a group reviewing crisis preparations revealed the same issues in a major corporation. There was and is considerable resistance to including major functions under crisis communications when those functions of the business don't fall under the current public affairs structure. Silos are resilient., but those silos can kill you if not broken down when the organizations reputation is at stake. I certainly saw this in the Qantas response to the engine problems--their crisis communication response was excellent, except for their social media presence which continued to tweet along happily about the latest promotions while the twittersphere was going crazy about the emergency landing. The marketing department controlling the social media was clearly not connected to crisis response.

It's not just about silos. In the BP response, almost anyone involved will tell you that the greatest problem came when either high-level BP executives or high-level administration officials landed in the command centers and, failing to understand ICS/JIC and all those effective response protocols, said, no, we're going to do things the way I'm comfortable with. In one JIC situation a BP exec from London landed and completely through out the JIC structure in place, imposed a British style press office operation much to the confusion and frustration of the practiced professionals who were there. The, when he/she left, they quickly went back to the structure and processes that worked.

Crisis management must be military-like. The ICS structure is military-like in unity of command, simplified reporting structures, emphasis on clearly defined job descriptions that enable replacements to easily come and go. None of this is typical of most organizations--certainly not most non-profits and institutions. But, trouble will surely come if those involved in response leadership and the organizations leaders insist on imposing less effective and efficient methods during a crisis.

 

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