Responding to Chaos as a Business

     Those who work in PR (Public Relations) are often thought of as "spinners" for their ability to spin the narrative of a bad situation in a company. How do you handle things when the world seems to be in chaos and your business is impacted? This is the situation with the Corona Virus, Swine Flu, Ebola, and sometimes the "old fashioned" Flu. All of these have impacted businesses around the world at some point. In the past, I've seen nearly an entire office spread the Flu to each other. It was like a wave - one department after another getting sick, being out for a couple of weeks, and then returning. How the management team handled it made a big difference in the company's success and longevity. 

 

Responding to Chaos

     As I've watched, listened, and read to various businesses respond to this worldwide situation, some patterns begin to emerge. There are successful ways of responding that people engage with and rally around. Then there are the stress-inducing, fear mongering ways that one might call "fear porn." Then there are those whom are angry with the government and looking for someone to blame. Lastly, are those businesses completely avoiding the topic and going about business as usual. 

What is the right thing to do? What is the most "on brand" approach to take? 

 

Staying Calm for Your Team

     When the world seems to be going crazy, will you (a leader) stay calm and hold your company together? 

Thinking first about the internal workings of your business, it's vital to keep calm for your team and be solutions oriented. This means adjusting the way we work, such as the "quarantine" style of remote work. Creating a new routine for the team such as a weekly operations meeting that is virtual on Zoom is a shift from the usual in-person meetings. More importantly than picking a platform for hosting your virtual meetings will be how you conduct them. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Cameras On. You want to see people's faces because it creates a sense of connected feeling seeing other people. This is also a key way of knowing if someone is paying attention or distracted.
  • Mute Unless Speaking. Families, animals, and homes make noise. It makes the meeting run much smoother if everyone can hear the person speaking, so ask for listeners to be muted until it is their time to speak.
  • Include a Minute of Fluff. While most of the time I am an advocate of cutting to the important stuff, during these uncertain times and shifts in routine people need some virtual hugs (so to speak). Plan to spend the first 5 minutes or so on catching up. You may even invite people to show up early to have water cooler talk. Airing out those anxieties and celebrating wins is important to the bigger picture of productivity. 
  • Use a Chat Tool. Sometimes while someone else is speaking, people have thoughts and ideas that contribute. However, you don't want to be talking over each other. In conjunction with your meeting, you may want to use a tool such as Slack, Teams, or Cliq to invite comments. This also helps continue the conversation. 

 

Communicating With Customers

     What is the best external communications plan for your existing clients and customers?  Depending upon the problem you are facing, there are a variety of ways to address your customers about what your plans are moving forward. There is a big difference between a business responding to a worldwide disease and an internal money laundering scheme that was recently uncovered. 

There are several things to take into consideration when deciding how you will respond:

  • Does this issue affect your business finances?
  • Does this issue impact people's health?
  • Is your ability to deliver products or services impacted?
  • How does this impact your community?
  • Will this issue impact how your customers trust your business?
  • Do you have a disaster plan?

 

First and foremost, it's important to be honest about your situation and options. Authenticity is key to building and holding trust with your customers. Once you have decided what needs to be communicated with customers, then you'll need to decide how to communicate it and how. For example: if you are responding to how your business is handling COVID-19 and you own a travel business, then it will have a major impact on everything. Are you offering additional services outside the usual to make up for the financial loss? Will you be donating time to support people in your community get through things? 

 

Sharing with the Public

     Unlike your customers, the public may not need the level of detail about your future plans. However, you want to continue communicating your brand values and how you are responding to the "chaos" impacting your business. 

 

THE BAD WAY: During times of uncertainty, some businesses take on the role of a sort of ambulance chaser - focusing all of their public communications on the bad situation happening in the world. When it is something that went wrong within the company itself (such as fraud by an employee), ignoring the situation or trying to spin what happened are both unethical approaches that only hurt the business long-term. These are poor choices for your public communications (i.e. social media, press releases). 

 

THE BETTER WAY: Just like with your customers, honesty is important. However, this is where a thoughtful content marketing strategy is vital to your success. Sharing about your current situation and plans with the public is a good idea. First you want to consider: how the messaging fits into the story of your business; the way to communicate it that aligns with your brand; and timing of the roll-out of those communications. 

 


 

Companies that do not address chaos once they become aware of it face future issues.  Leaders can help reduce risks by working with your team to decide and then document your response to issues. Then following through on that plan and closely evaluating it as you go is vital. 

In addition to these guidelines, it’s often prudent to consult with professionals who can offer additional insights and help you plan. This may be legal counsel if there are any potential legal ramifications. Speak with a financial adviser such as your a CPA if there is a financial impact. 

How do you respond to chaos in your business?