As an agency, we focus daily on the entire life cycle of a brand- from development, to ideation, to brand protection (aka crisis management.) These conversations with clients and sessions often look and sound very different: one full of joy, new crayons, post-its, rainbows and cupcakes, and the other one full of intensity, black sharpies, rain clouds and dumpster fires.
It seems diametrically opposing to our sociological training that creativity and crisis could ever co-exist. I mean…do they even KNOW one another? Our intuition has told us that those two characters play for opposite teams.
The same methodology we apply to expansively thinking about the future of companies and narrowing those “big ideas” down to results-driven tactics is more symbiotic with crisis management procedures than their stereotypes depict.
Where innovation may have the sunnier reputation, both approaches begin with hope and imagining possible, positive outcomes. And when done effectively, the results should be well-defined and measurable.
DEFINING CRISIS MANAGEMENT
Within crisis management there are two fundamentally different types of crises– foreseen and unforeseen.
With a foreseen crisis, you can predict solutions because these situations, along with their resolutions, have previously been experienced. A foreseen crisis could be defined as a fire, a death, injury, or physical property damage. You may not have personal experience with the incident, but with a solid CSI-binge and some Googling, there is some precedent to follow. There is an existing map, and with end in mind, you can develop a clear(er) path to get there. Sure, there will be bumps in the road, but at least you know where you’re going.
In an unforeseen crisis, such as our current reality with the COVID-19 pandemic, the solution is not clear to anyone because the situation is unprecedented, effectively rendering any potential plan obsolete. How can you make a plan to get somewhere when that destination is unidentified?
Your immediate action must be a fundamental shift in focus from trying to follow a plan, and predict an outcome, to instead ensuring your team, processes, and communications are aligned.
Managing an unforeseen crisis does not require the ability of clairvoyance, from which you gain knowledge to all of life’s questions. It does, however, require the following:
Define your core team
Set an effective process
Allow space for innovation
Make informed decisions
Communicate with clarity
Throughout the crisis management process, we cannot stress enough the need to have the right people at the table with you and once you do, to communicate effectively, efficiently, and respectfully. At Edison 360, whether we are running a creative session or a crisis management meeting, we find it imperative to engage different perspectives. Examples could include a representative for your guests/consumers, one for the media and public profile management, your owners/board, and someone representing your staff.
Rely on experts, those who have the dispassionate facts (i.e. a medical professional), but be open to engaging “naïve experts” as well. We encourage leaders to bring in someone (just one or two people) who do not know the challenges. They often offer a unique and valuable suggestion that is overlooked by others who are too close to the situation.
All good managers have a process. They more than likely have a process for the process. Be a leader and do not wait for a crisis to gather together (or at least six-feet apart). Identify your core team and define the steps needed to guide you through a path of uncertainty. The process may include assessment of key stakeholders, creation of a list of the personnel needed to carry out the next steps, training the team, and post-crisis analysis, among others.
When times become very ambiguous and uncertain, we go to what we know. Use your experience and intuition to guide your compass. In years of working for the Walt Disney Company, we bathed in a lot of dreams, wishes and pixie dust. But if you dig into all Disney films, 99% of them have a crisis occur (that’s a separate blog in itself…). But for this crisis, we are channelling the most recent and relevant, Princess Anna in Frozen 2 repeating, “Do the next right thing.” Once you do that, do it again. And again. And again.
An effective process in unforeseen situations will be made up of a series of “next right things”.
This is the creativity (minus the rainbows and cupcakes) time. Rapid innovation, while under stress and embedded in fear, requires bold thinking outside of any box you have ever imagined. You will have competing priorities (for which you do not have the luxury of time to sort through), a frazzled team you must lead, and a tight (like yesterday, tight) deadline.
Take comfort in the absence of a map and allow for a spark of creativity as the answers may live in the corners you have not considered. Make space for innovation because when we can all hug again, those that will emerge on top will be those that paused to think differently and imagine possibilities beyond the playbook.
INFORMED DECISION MAKING
Real time decision-making is unsettling. Children have no fear. They just DO, and brush off their knees when they fall. And that curiosity leads them on great adventures and open to wonder. As adults, we know fire is hot and hills are steep. We examine all sides of a situation, thinking through various scenarios, and weighing pros and cons to make a deliberate, well thought-out decision. Unfortunately- no time for that here. Unsettling or not, you will need to make a decision quickly – sometimes, in a matter of minutes, with only the information at hand and without any real knowledge of the consequences. Confidently move forward to the next decision, brush off your scrapes and pivot as necessary.
At the onset, determine the person or team that will be drafting all internal and external communications for the duration of the crisis. These communications should reiterate- ad nauseam- your holding statements or current messages. This team should also have a representative that is the one disseminating all of the communication to your respective constituents, so they are alert and tuned in to important information coming from one source. Make sure the messages are tailored appropriately to each audience and show genuine sincerity, yet concise messaging. Most importantly, determine your primary communicator for the crisis. This person becomes the reputable voice, fueled by the educated and innovative guidance of their team.
Currently, we are in an unprecedented time, with unforeseen circumstances, and unpredictable outcomes. We know an end is there, we just don’t know what it looks like and when it will happen. But it will happen.
Set your process, think differently and do the next right thing.
We look forward to leaving the grey behind, following an undefined road and seeing everything in vivid Technicolor again very soon.
Keep calm and innovate on,
x Team Edison
As samples of innovation through crisis, here are a few scenarios in which we have been involved where immediate, innovative solutions proved effective:
An elderly guest in a luxury hotel passed away in her guest room. At the same time, the international ownership group and potential investors were meeting in a boardroom on the same floor. For perception purposes, the challenge was to get the coroner, and body, in and out without any of the meeting participants knowing what was happening. The team quickly aligned and the spa team created an engaging meditative meeting break for the attendees. The situation was quickly, and quietly, resolved and as an added bonus, the participants were much more relaxed continuing their negotiations!
Predictably, new construction always has issues (to put it mildly). Yet on a very hot day, a very large window from an elevated floor of a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip popped from the heat, cracked, and shattered, raining pieces of broken glass on the main port-cochere drive in the middle of the night. The sheer pressure blew out the windows of a nearby Escalade and two Mercedes town cars. Knowing that the question and concern would be if this would happen again, we quickly gathered all available staff to clean up the drive and called a building inspector to come out. He did so before dawn, and proceeded to repel around the building on our window washing equipment. He then drafted a statement on his letterhead that this was an isolated incident and that all other windows were secure. By the time the incident was leaked to the media (the hole was obvious in the building, we had the document in hand, from a reliable source, demonstrating our safety confidence, immediate response time, and effective management of an unprecedented situation.
A tour group of guests, coming from another country and in route to our hotel, called to let us know that a large majority of the guests were violently ill. The group demanded entrance; despite knowing they had a highly contagious virus. We immediately gathered our team – the general manager, the hotel operations director, the media director, and other leadership personnel. Someone then suggested the bellman. Maybe not the most obvious choice, but we needed all the help we could get. Housekeeping gathered supplies of masks and gloves. We developed a plan to quarantine the group to one hotel tower and decided to have a buffet catered in a room they could all go in, without the staff being present. With the rooms and food set, we asked what else we were missing? The bellman, of course, mentioned the luggage. He suggested taking their luggage and cleaning it gently outside to wash away germs before anything was handled. Through this quick decision-making and valuable teamwork, our staff was kept free of the virus and the guests were delighted.
For more information or to discuss your current challenges, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are offering complimentary 30-min consulting calls to help our community of clients and friends. Be well.