Crisis Management in a Post-Truth Era

By | March 27, 2017

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These days, it seems like no one is safe from a crisis arriving suddenly and unexpectedly. Some have subscribed this phenomenon to hypersensitivity on the political left and right, goaded on by professional activists who subscribe bad intentions to…well, everything.

In fairness, there’s something to this idea that culture warriors jumping to conclusions (or trawling for clicks) are driving the “post-truth” era. But if the problem were simply accuracy and precision in reporting, professional communicators have ways of addressing that, whether through digital tools, validators, or the mainstream press.

I’d argue the real challenge for communicators are the longer-term, structural trends around the democratization of publishing and real-time hyper-connectivity.

If the goal is to bend but not break in response to any given crisis, speed is where communications teams most frequently snap. Through diversity in hiring, you can create a more culturally attuned team that is better at identifying missteps. You can build a long and beautiful crisis plan, and have best-in-class systems for customer engagement on social media. But solving for speed can be a jarring shift – or perhaps a liberating one, depending on the organizational culture – that requires decentralizing decision-making authority, redefining what “fast” means for team members, and rigorously building in muscle memory.

In my experience, the places that have done the best of cracking the crisis response code are the ones who allow and empower smart decisions across their communications team. This doesn’t mean that you hand the keys over to recent college grads. But by having clearly articulated values internally, developing muscle memory by moving quickly on smaller opportunities, and having a team culture that tolerates well intentioned and reasonable mistakes, you stand a better chance of handling crises with real reputational impact when they arrive.

Of course, this is not adoptable in every culture. We’re communicators – we can’t wave a magic wand and suddenly have the precise culture and organizational design that’s optimal for making smart decisions very quickly. But those cultures then need to figure out ways of expediting review for crises, perhaps designating specific contacts who are accountable for quick turns in legal, regulatory compliance, policy and government relations, and other departments as needed. And you still need to have that tough conversation about values.

But I’d love to hear from you: how has your organization adapted to speed? Social tools? Organizational structure? Some other way?

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