Churches, like any other businesses in today’s environment, must take steps to ensure the safety of their congregations.
Because emergencies happen to all businesses, a thoughtful and resilient emergency plan of action is prudent.
As of December 19, 108 people were killed in churches in 2017.
When an active shooter on November 5, 2017, killed 26 people and wounded 20 at a rural Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, media, public, and political concerns reached a new high.
This church attack was the deadliest active shooting by an individual in Texas history and the fifth-deadliest in the United States. It is the most devastating active shooting in an American place of worship in our history.
Such events disappear quickly from the front pages of mainstream media, and many people, including pastors and congregants, resort to thinking, “it can’t happen to us.” Hopefully, it won’t.
Although the chances that your congregants will be involved in such an attack are slim, church leadership must accept the possibility and plan for this and all other possible emergencies.
Having worked in the field of crisis communications, prevention, and management for 40-years, I believe in and practice with my clients “ praying for the best while preparing for the worse.”
Organizations that do so will survive and recover; those that don’t suffer severe and often irreparable consequences.
This series of columns will provide insight into the questions that church leaders and pastors must consider as they plan for the safety of their congregants.
Planning for the necessary personnel to respond, the communication of the event, training church personnel, and the event follow-up should cover issues such as:
- Why houses of worship need an emergency response plan and the types of emergencies to include.
- The importance of a facilitated dialogue with leadership and congregants about developing an action plan that includes law enforcement, emergency response, legal and insurance personnel a process we call “Collaborative Informed Consent.”
- Considerations of hiring professional security personnel or using volunteers, including a “talent inventory” from your congregants.
- Conducting a risk analysis and evaluation of your church facility, parking lot, and personnel.
- Why your institution is a “soft target” and how to “harden” it by quickly achieving “soft” and “hard” lockdowns.
- Having trained “screeners” and the options for action they must take when an incident develops.
- Understanding your internal and external communication needs and venues before, during, and after a crisis.
- Considering non-lethal and lethal options.
- How to gather intelligence and ensure confidentiality.
- How to protect children and seniors who are the most vulnerable members of your congregation.
- Understanding what an active shooter is and how they think.
- The times of day and the days of the week your church is most vulnerable.
- The role of active or retired military, law enforcement, and concealed carry permit holders on your security team.
- What you must communicate to your congregation about your plan and what they must do in the event of an emergency, including an active shooter.
- Whether you should post signage, and, if so, what should it say?
- Establishing proactive establishment of post-event counseling and recovery assistance.
- Teaching self-awareness and using the “see something, say something” strategy.
- Pros and cons of “Run, hide and fight.”
- The need for “Stop the Bleed” first-aid kits and training.
These columns share the expertise gleaned from our four decades of experience in crisis planning and management and those involved in church security nationwide. We challenge you to explore what has become a vitally important role in today’s houses of worship – safety and security and not just to conclude that carrying a weapon in a house of prayer is all you have to do to protect your congregants.
Interested persons can find additional information including an introductory video on church security, podcasts, and downloadable materials at www.ldarrylarmstrong.com. A pilot webinar is under development, and those interested in participating in this pilot can register at our website to receive announcements of future presentation dates.
(L. Darryl Armstrong Ph.D. is the principal at L. Darryl ARMSTRONG and Associates LLC, a firm providing crisis communications and consulting training nation-wide. Dr. Armstrong, who holds a doctoral degree in neuro-linguistics, graduated from Murray State University in communications and behavioral psychology and the Executive Security Institute with an emphasis in security planning. For limited speaking engagements and consulting, contact him at 1.888.340.2006, email@example.com and www.ldarrylarmstrong.com.)
All organizations these days are subject to crisis and emergency management disasters. Those that take the time to plan for their worst-case scenarios and be prepared in advance will survive and even thrive. Those that believe it “can’t happen to us” will not.
Perhaps equally important, whether they are nonprofit organizations, local, state or federal agencies, large or medium size businesses, or universities and colleges, those folks that don’t understand the impact that social media can have on crisis and emergency management are destined to suffer even more serious consequences than they may realize.
It has been said that imagination is the true sign of intelligence. When it comes to technology and crisis and emergency management, which is evolving daily at speeds often beyond our comprehension, there can be no argument that imagination often makes the difference between the mundane and the next level of creativity.
Recently we teamed with a relatively new company based in Denver, Colo., Nusura, Inc. – “nusura” is a Swahili term meaning “one who survives” – this company is one of the newest innovative companies on deck offering a way for organizations to test their social media and public outreach skills through the use of a training tool they call SimulationDeck.
SimulationDeck is a secure Web portal that replicates online communications tools, including such social media as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as organizational websites and blogs.
As many of my readers know, for years my firm has offered strategic crisis planning and issues management alongside emergency operations planning, training and webinars. When we were asked by a client to consider how best to bring them into the real world of social media we sought out and found Nusura, Inc. The teaming partnership has resulted in a significant contract with a federal agency. We believe our combined resources, talents and experience and a similar set of values on how to handle clients and business in general brought us to the front of the bidder pack.
Nusura’s president is Jim Chestnutt, an experienced public information officer formerly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Chestnutt and his team of former FEMA employees set out to train people on how to get information out to their stakeholders in a timely, accurate and coordinated fashion during emergencies.
We saw benefit and value to application of their technology for not just life-threatening situations, we also saw the benefit to planning for the always prevalent developing crisis around such internal issues as reorganizations, downsizing, sexual harassment charges, ethics charges and legal entanglements that any organization can face.
Chestnutt and I both found that in after-action reports from actual and exercise events – be it an internal crisis or an external emergency – that the public information function in major exercises was not being tested in a realistic way, which is what set me out to find a way to correct the issue for my clients.
Chestnutt says that the pressure created by mock media and those tasked with testing the public information element in mock exercises didn’t compare to the reality of handling even a small emergency.
Nusura, Inc. has former public information officers and field agents from all levels of government who have experienced all sorts of internal and external crises and emergencies. SimulationDeck is the creative offspring of this group of talented professionals to mimic what happens online and in the media during an actual crisis or emergency.
The simulation Web portal has nine websites which emulate social media sites: SimulationBook includes Facebook’s core features; Bleater simulates Twitter; the blogging platform is called Frogger; their YouTube look-alike is Ewe Tube; there is a site for agency or organizational news; incident information; the Exercise Times Daily, a Web-based newspaper that features live reader comments; SimDeck News, a Web-based TV station; and KEXN Radio.
SimulationDeck doesn’t require special software, so it can work on any platform or Internet-connected device. Chestnutt notes that one person working the SimulationDeck could act as 10 people. This person can file a newspaper article, then post on the agency’s website and then act as the Governor’s press secretary and announce a surprise press conference.
Chestnutt told emergencymgmt.com that “Things happen instantly, and any simulation player can generate an enormous amount of injects, as fast as they can type and enter it.”
The tool was recently used during the Vibrant Response 13, a U.S. Army North national-level field training exercise that had 9,000 service members and civilians from the military, as well as state and federal agencies.
Dan Manuszewski, Chief of Public Affairs for the U.S. Army North, told the editor at www.emergencymgmt.com that it’s increasingly important to practice all forms of communications and that includes social media as it becomes increasingly popular.
We note that many of our college and university clients, who have been reluctant to engage in social media as a communications tool, are becoming aware of its importance when they see that their students and staff are more quickly informed through Twitter and Facebook Smartphone communications than the organization’s systems. We see great opportunity to bring these folks and many other organizations and agencies into the real social media and mass media world through such applications as SimulationDeck.
Like it or not, social media is becoming a major communications platform, especially for the current generations. Those organizations that fail to train their employees in the proper use of social media are doing a disservice to the employees and their stakeholders.
Manuszewski says that we need to make sure we understand the entire information environment – from the traditional media to the media that people are using now, like social media.
Chestnutt says that the company is listening carefully to feedback from its users and continually making improvements.
Remember what we have learned from the previous articles about the sociological and psychological make-ups of Millennials? Primarily, this generation has certain behavioral traits and expectations that are well ingrained based on their parental and societal upbringing. Their definition of a “sense of satisfaction” can be defined in three specific ways:
- They seek to “make a difference” in the world, as many of us did. However, they will engage with anyone at any level who can or will help them accomplish this outcome. Their social, supervisory and management skills are influenced by their technology rather than day-to-day social interactions. Therefore, they can be lacking in social and interpersonal skills.
- They want to make a “real contribution” to an employer’s mission, vision and strategies. But they need to believe in the organization’s mission, vision and values. To engage them, you (the manager) must clearly articulate and explain your expectations, how you will measure their accomplishments, and clearly state what is not allowed behaviorally;
- They want to be “innovators”, leading their organizations to do things smarter, faster and better than anyone else. And they believe that they are the only ones who can do it.
As Boomers and Xers, “realistic and pragmatic survivors” of the real business world, we have become skeptics and cynics in many regards. We have survived many social, economic, and political situations that the Millennial cannot even conceive of. Although 60% of the future work force will be Millennials, there are still plenty of Boomers and GenXers in management positions who will do the hiring. It behooves us all to figure out how to work together.
On the positive side, Millennials can be:
- True believers in organizations and businesses where they work, if they see opportunities to accomplish “their needs and meet their ambitions”.
- Ambition is good. The flip side of this is that they believe they know much more about their (and often your) field of expertise than you do.
- Desirous of global work experience – they cherish it, but remember that they will often need to be coached and counseled in diplomacy and process.
- Technology savvy. They embrace the available gigabytes of processing power and interconnectivity because it affords channels of technological collaboration.
- They have energy to burn.
As we learn to appreciate what the Millennials can offer, we need to understand that most Millennials will not last much longer than 3-5 years with any organization. They expect to change jobs many times, perhaps 5-10 times, in their lives. Choosing to leave the company for greater challenges and go “where they are appreciated and can fulfill their needs and ambitions” doesn’t mean that they are not valuable during their time with us. Just don’t expect them to be there for the long haul.
The evolved Millennial sees each new job as an opportunity and learning experience in the building blocks of their resume and life.
Some of the insecurity and angst of Boomers and GenXers comes from the fact that many of the M-Generation would take our jobs tomorrow, if offered, because it simply looks like fun. It doesn’t take them long to feel that they have learned all they need to learn in their current position. It’s nothing personal; it’s just the way they think.
Grunt work, teamwork, and collaboration with other generations are interesting to them only if they can do so technologically. So utilize this to the fullest degree.
We are not saying that it will be easy for us Boomers and GenXers to work with Millennials. Yet it can be accomplished…with members of the M-Generation who are open to mentoring, coaching and counseling by the “old gray hairs.”
If we can tap into the fact that The Millennials truly want to “make a difference” by tackling big issues within our organizations such as poverty, environmental cleanup, best practices in management, or environmental sustainability, we can gain their respect and better utilize their talents.
Innovation, especially in the areas of digital communication and technology, is what they seek. This is where they shine. We need to acknowledge and appreciate this while also making sure that they allow us to guide them in understanding social and management style differences. Getting along with each other and respecting our different generational styles can only help us all achieve what we want to achieve. Let them have free rein in innovating to a certain point, but make it very clear that “they” must respect (as “we” will) social and management style differences so that we can all just “get along” for the greater good. They will need coaching and mentoring in face-to-face social skills and we owe it to them to help them develop in this area.
There are several things that we can do to satisfy the particular kind of meaning that Millennials wants to feel in their work.
First, Millennials want to be heard.
Like it or not, Millennials have ideas and opinions about the organization from day one. They want their ideas about the mission, the work, and the way to get things done to be taken seriously.
The traditional response in many organizations, “This is just the way it is done around here” simply opens the door to them to give you their alternatives, opinions, ideas, and suggestions in an unproductive way.
I recommend you be prepared to capture their ideas and suggestions, because you might just learn something from their insight that benefits everyone and improves your project.
The need to be heard is not unique to just this generation.
Everyone wants to be heard and taken seriously. What makes Millennials different from other generations is that they want to be heard from day one before they have earned the privilege in the eyes of their older colleagues. We waited… until we had gained experience, or understood the project, or had the gravitas to deal with the political, community, management or organizational implications of the situation…before we expected to be heard.
The good news is that research shows they are less concerned about whether their ideas are accepted or not. They simply want the opportunity to speak.
We recommend that you make it a consistent behavior to ask your M-Generation new hire what she thinks about an idea or an issue under discussion. Remember you are under no obligation to act on her ideas or comments. However, listen enough and closely, and you actually may hear something insightful and valuable and worthy of integration.
The new hire will feel fully engaged simply because you asked for her input. And who amongst us doesn’t appreciate being asked?
Millennials also want to hear from you, and they want it immediately – not in annual service reviews.
These folks need and want more feedback about their work so that they know they are making positive contributions. We all feel this way regardless of our generation; however, Millennials want immediate, as in “right now”, feedback not just annually but daily in some cases. This will be tiring and even exhausting yet this is what our research shows.
Those of us in the older generations are generally content with feedback through structured reviews with supervisors periodically throughout the year. For Millennials, though, feedback based on clearly defined and explained expectations should follow closely on particular projects or accomplishments. If you think about it, this makes a certain amount of sense.
So, “chill”, all you Boomers and Xers, you don’t have to follow these new hires around all day, reviewing every little task they complete. Rather, integrate and adopt the consistent behavior of offering the Millennial brief evaluative comments in the midst of his work and pointing out how his efforts relate to the larger mission and vision.
Another thing to remember is that Millennials want to express themselves through their work and will do so often very creatively.
Boomers and Xers have placed greater emphasis on accomplishment as the primary means of self-expression. For Millennials, how they do their work is just as expressive as what they accomplish.
Expect to hear them say “what an awesome” job they have done because they believe their accomplishments are “awesome”.
The authors of The M-Factor note this is a generation with an intuitive sense of “personal branding.” Sure, everyone has an iPhone they say, but no one has an iPhone case just like mine.
Being unique and being noticed are powerful motivators for Millennials. One way to do this is to give them room to put their own creative stamp on their work, whether it is the décor of their workspace or the design of a newsletter.
Another way is to let them own something, a project or responsibility, which is fully in their control and means a great deal to them. Proceed very cautiously and allow them opportunity to grow one small project at a time.
In conclusion, we have examined Millennials and their expectations about the workplace from several different viewpoints:
- Their relationship with their parents;
- Their sense of entitlement;
- Their need for speed and connectivity to the wired world;
- And their desire for meaning of their work and life.
For each of these areas, we have offered insight and ideas for “negotiating” through the challenges and taking advantage of the opportunities we will face in working with The M-Generation.
To be most effective at this interaction, and to supervise them, we must work smarter by understanding the unique and different behaviors and traits that are relatively fixed and permanent in this generation.
Don’t waste your time or their time asking how to change them. Accept their strengths and weaknesses for what they are. Realistically consider what behaviors you choose to challenge and what behaviors you will accommodate, and then make it absolutely clear what your expectations are. Be prepared to negotiate with them.
It’s important to define sensible, well-articulated, and mutually understood boundaries, standards and expectations for these new hires to live up to and abide by.
However, it’s equally important to learn how to adapt to what they want and need, if they are to be productive in the workplace.
Once you negotiate a balance between challenge and accommodation, you must then negotiate with the Millennials to focus on releasing the exceptional gifts and talents that the generation can bring to the work place.
Most importantly, as the authors of The M-Factor summarize in their practical wisdom:
- Keep learning.
- Stay resilient and flexible.
- Maintain a sense of humor.
- Find a way to center yourself and remain calm.
This generation will bring unique talents to the work place. Find the time and patience to utilize them.
They may have dozens of ways to interview and hire, solve the same problem in five different ways in various divisions, and simply spend a lot of time and energy needlessly identifying and solving the same problems repeatedly in many different ways.
Those companies who do standardize their leadership processes and training create a path forward map to help every leader in the company to be successful. In simple terms: Develop your road map and follow it, or as I tell clients who seek strategic planning assistance from me, “Write your plan based on best practices and work your plan.”
Why don’t companies do this?
Research shows that many companies don’t have a unified leadership process in place because:
- The leaders don’t have the training they need to succeed.
- There is no objective accountability system.
- The “dots are not connected” for employees in respect to purpose, worthwhile work and making a difference.
- The companies are not using a sequenced mapped approach.
- There is no process for managing high- and middle-level managers.
- There is no process in place to address the problems with low performers.
To determine if your company needs to standardize your leadership system, Quint Studer in his book, “Results That Last,” suggests we ask ourselves such questions as:
- How many different ways do we have to interview a candidate?
- How do we know that when our leaders have left a meeting we have accurately and completely conveyed the messages we want them to carry back to the employees?
- When employees are asked tough questions, how do we know they are not giving us just the answers they think we want to hear?
- How do we measure the performance of our employees in such a way as we can determine they are low, middle or high-level performers?
- What process do we have in place to assess the performance of employees and their accountability against the overall organizational goals?
Six ways to improve our leadership programs
Leadership programs can be standardized and improved.
When we standardize our programs, we provide a path forward map for all our leadership, which saves time and money and makes organizations more successful.
How do we do this?
1. Use a common agenda. While Studer recommends that all agendas be organized around his “Five Pillars of Excellence,” (People, service, quality, finance and growth) even more important is that for every meeting there is a standardized agenda used by all leaders in the organization. By using such an approach, we can align all staff to our organizational goals, which then allows us to help them connect to the organization’s vision and mission. This approach also gives us the means to communicate to our team the critical success factors within the organization and in their individual work areas.
2. Align your evaluation process to Studer’s five pillars or the organization’s critical success factors. When developing goals for our organization, they must be objective, measurable, meaningful and aligned with the organization’s pillars or critical success factors. They must also be focused on results.
3. Provide consistent packets of information. When leaders leave meetings, they should have a prepared packet of information they can share with their employees so that everyone hears the same messages. Studer notes that many companies use “Flip and Tell” books to package the information.
4. Choose a single method of interviewing and hiring employees. All applicants should be asked the same three or four behavioral-based questions no matter what job they are applying for in the organization. It would be prudent to choose questions geared toward values and ownership.
5. Collect tough questions from leaders. Every leader should be asked on a regular basis to share with the team the tough questions they hear from their staff. Then work with your leaders to develop a consistent set of answers that will be used by all leaders. This develops a consistent message that can be communicated by everyone. Consistency builds confidence and provides employees evidence that the leaders have the information needed to answer their questions.
6. Make sure your leaders are trained in basic competencies to perform. Many leaders are not comfortable delivering messages without appropriate training.
Those companies who annually train their leaders in such competencies as meeting facilitation, negotiations, conflict prevent and resolution and presentations skills are more successful because they are providing the essential training all leaders need.
Research shows that repetition is essential to build integrity and credibility within an organization. Great leaders never tire of repetition. When leaders become better at using their skills, they become more efficient and effective at doing it. They will get better with practice.
Organizations that use this six step approach have longer lasting results, improved organizational efficiencies and greater innovation.Key points to remember:
- Stop the variances. When an organization has variance in its leadership approach it produces inconsistencies within the organization making it more difficult to achieve excellence. Alignment among the managers and employees improves performance and enhances customer and employee satisfaction.
- Standardize behavior. Leadership behavior is challenging to quantify and many organizations find it a challenge to standardize behavior. Many organizations fear that by doing so they will intrude on the leader’s autonomy and creativity. However, organizational goals come down from the top and include clear visions and missions. Any single leader’s independence is less important than the organization’s mission.
- Eliminate barriers. Barriers that can get in the way of standardizing leadership behavior include: Lack of critical mass; lack of a balanced approach; insufficient training; no objective accountability; no path forward map which connects the dots; no process in place to manage middle and high level performers; no system to address quickly and efficiently low performers; an inability or unwillingness to standardize best practices across the organization. These barriers must be systematically eliminated.n Identify and eliminate inconsistent practices.
Carefully scrutinize all your practices in interviewing systems, messaging to employees, leader responses to crises, varying leadership performances and ineffective leadership evaluations.
Every organization should strive to create a self-sustaining culture with energy and vision to achieve excellence, Studer says. This can be accomplished by renovating your leadership evaluation system, applying key leadership behaviors, which will inspire self-motivation (the most powerful motivator of all), and developing standardized processes which will hardwire excellence into your organization.
Sources: “Results That Last” by Quint Studer
Prior to the 24-hour news channels, the advent of social media, and an ever-advancing world of mobile technology, the corporate spokesperson during a crisis could control the messages through carefully constructed news conferences.
This is no longer the case with the advent of “citizen journalists.” Organizations that have not yet recognized today’s new media place themselves in serious peril when a crisis occurs.
Today crisis communication is no longer just a corporate communicator’s function. No longer can the PR department write the crisis manual and just arrange for media training of a select few spokespeople. Today, crisis management is much more than just crisis communication during an emergency such as a flood, fire or nuclear mishap event.
A crisis, by definition, “is a revelation, allegation or set of circumstances which threatens the integrity, reputation, or survival of an individual or an organization.” Crises of any kind, be they event or non-event related, threaten the public’s sense of safety, security, values and appropriateness.
When a crisis occurs, actual, potential or perceptual damage to the organization’s brand and reputation will occur. Because the organization is often at a loss to end the damage immediately, the “after shocks” continue to do even more damage.
Therefore, a crisis management plan must account for what we generally think of as those natural or man-made events that require activation of an Emergency Operations Center and for those business crisis that are non-event related.
Statistics show that most business crises today are non-event related.
These are the “smoldering or simmering” situations that create crisis in organizations, with 49 percent of the crises originating from management and 33 percent from employees.
Of these crises, 61 percent were deemed “smoldering or simmering” while only 39 percent were sudden. This means that, in some cases, the organization was truly blindsided by the onset of the event, yet, in other cases, the organization had sufficient intelligence to be prepared and yet had not sufficiently planned to address it.
These crises range among 2012 crisis categories, expressed in percentages:
White collar crime — 16 percent
Mismanagement — 15
Work place violence — 11
Class action lawsuits — 11
Business disruption — 8
Labor dispute — 8
Casualty accidents — 8
Financial damage — 6
Consumer Activism — 4
Discrimination — 3
Other (not listed) — 3
Sexual harassment — 2
Environmental — 2
Whistleblowers — 2
Executive dismissal — 1
Prudent and strategically thinking organizations recognize the need to institutionalize, within all the key business functions, a holistic and standardized approach to handling both event and non-event related crises.
A coordinated holistic approach addresses crisis prediction, issues analysis, prevention and management as a formal part of the overall business planning strategy. Such an approach ensures solid contingency plans as part of business continuity planning.
A Change Management Plan is a key component of this strategy since such an approach requires a change from the traditional model of just event emergency planning. It requires corporate communicators and management at all levels of the business to carefully think through all the various event and non-event crises that the agency needs to be prepared to handle.
Therefore, to be effective and efficient, crisis management of non-events must be embedded into the corporation’s overall management system. Just as an organization has emergency responders within each business unit, they also must have non-event crisis managers as part of the matrix.
Holistic crisis planning, therefore, enhances the capability of the management within all business units, as well as communicators and management at the corporate level, to be better prepared. They will be ready to respond to new and even unimagined non-event risks and to manage the growing number and diversity of stakeholders, many of whom have conflicting agendas.
As organizations become more complex, non-event crisis planning becomes even more critical. Because as the organizations grow, they restructure, merge divisions and must deal with the business of corporate realignment.
This excellence in management approach can only be accomplished through integration of non-event planning as a value-add, standardized and critical component of any emergency planning activity.
When the threat management process addresses event and non-event issues and is integrated within the overall issues management process in the organization, the crisis prediction and prevention capability is noticeably enhanced. This is particularly the case for the “smoldering or simmering” crises referred to above.
Identifying and evaluating as many as possible threats and issues are always the first steps. Yet it is the management and communication of these threats and issues that is critical and most challenging for all organizations, especially when dealing with the non-event issues.
Obviously, not all crises are predictable or preventable. Yet, an effective threat and issues management process, embedded within the crisis management planning structure and coordinated at the corporate level, allows for the organization’s management to potentially foresee, plan scenarios, exercise them, be proactive and then decide to take, treat, transfer or eliminate the threat.
Forward-thinking and progressive organizations are appointing crisis event and non-event managers. These managers are charged with assessing, planning and implementing a standardized protocol and comprehensive crisis event and non-event response and communication system. This system embeds key business functions such as operations, human resources, legal, IT, health safety and environment, sales and marketing, communications, cyber and reputation security as part of the progressive crisis management teams.
Once processes have been developed covering all key business functions, the competency issues of crisis team members must be addressed. This is accomplished in the following three stages:
1. Utilize behavioral and personality style assessment such as use of the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory.
2. Provide training in those areas in which team members will be engaged, i.e. media, social media, presentation skills, dealing with different personality styles, etc.
3. Conduct extensive tabletop or full-field exercising combined with systematically cataloguing and documenting lessons learned and best practices.
Skills, training and professional experience at all levels of the crisis response structure are critical. The response begins with the receptionist providing the telephone response to callers. It includes the leadership and strategic planning skills of the crisis management team and the ability to provide counseling and support to employees, the next of kin and the victims of a crisis. And, of course, communication with the mainstream media is critical, as well as the effective shaping of messages in social media while protecting the organization’s brand and reputation.
Research, and our team member’s 40 years of experience in behavioral psychology and management, validates that the best crisis management team members are chosen and trained according to behavioral suitability and not the function related to the position on the team.
Due to ongoing staff adjustments and job changes in corporations as well as downsizing and corporate reorganization, it is essential to have a comprehensive plan that trains and retrains crisis team members in a systematic and regular manner to account for this turn over.
Many corporations are choosing to establish curriculum based training certification programs to ensure the right people are in the right place properly trained to handle the situation when needed.
The days of a corporate communicator being able to handle a crisis by calling a reporter friend are over.
Crisis communications of event and non-event situations are complex and require standardization across all business units. Embedding the crisis managers into the corporation at all levels ensures that the best decisions are made by having an active ongoing risk and issues assessment protocol. This protocol utilizes tried and proven strategies and tactics that predict and, when possible, prevent crises while managing the issue and the public and stakeholders’ perceptions.
In 1973, I was fortunate enough to be selected for a position at what was then the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Land Between The Lakes. I had been a newspaper reporter and editor up until then, and I was excited about working in the field of “public relations.”I was chosen to be the Reports Editor, a title that really meant nothing. Reports Editor is one of those arcane titles that the federal government uses to “hide their real intent.” I was in this position from 1973-1979.Looking back, I would say that this job probably taught me more than any of the others.Local people in western Kentucky and Tennessee have feelings that run deep even to this day about TVA. Those people, especially the ones who were forced from their homes for TVA’s national demonstration area in outdoor recreation and environmental education, will never get over it.However, when I was 23, I saw this opportunity as a great challenge. I decided from day one to reach out and engage all members of the public who had an interest in the project, especially the former residents and the business community. I sought to develop working relationships among diverse groups.More than once, management questioned why I spent many extra hours attending meetings of the tourist associations, chambers, economic development committees and the various state agency public hearings.
I may not have been able to articulate it then, but now I realize what the answer to this question was. If you truly want to solve a problem, you must involve the people with the problem in the solution. You must develop meaningful and sustainable relationships with them based on trust.
I took my responsibility of being a “public servant” seriously. I believed then, just as I do today, that all government employees have an obligation to engage the taxpayers (the very people who pay taxes to provide government employees’ salaries) in meaningful discussions to find appropriate solutions to difficult problems.
Many of my colleagues thought and felt, as they expressed to me, that I was wasting my time trying to develop relationships with the very people who wanted TVA to take the proverbial hike.
They were wrong then, and government agencies that still play at public involvement and engagement without meaningful intent are even more wrong now.
Since the taxpayers’ money pays government employee salaries, the taxpaying public has the right to be engaged in helping agencies make the best possible decisions.
Allow me to give you an example.
Recently, I was asked to facilitate a series of public meetings for a federal agency. I quickly determined after the first meeting, a nightmare for all involved, that two things were readily apparent:
– The federal agency didn’t really want a facilitated meeting. Facilitated meetings in my world are set up to bring all the people to the table and keep them there, no matter how long, until an agreed upon path forward is determined.
– The agency really wanted a traffic cop or a moderator for these meetings. The second meeting we moderated, even though I thought it unwise to do. The meeting went well although I voiced my professional opinion, something I rarely do when I am conducting a meeting.
I told the public that we had advised the agency that its meeting model should be changed to a more educational and involvement model rather than just an informational model. An educational model would allow for significantly more public involvement and, at the least, shared assessment of the problem, if not some shared decision-making.
Needless to say, the agency and my former contractor have decided they “really don’t have the funds to have a facilitator.”
Frankly, I am glad they came to that decision. I was going to be forced to walk away from the project anyway, something I have done in the past when agencies tried to fake public engagement by applying only the necessary rules and regulations.
This leads me back to the need to solve the problems by involving the people directly affected.
There are six steps I recommend to truly involve the people directly affected, whether it is a small business or a government agency manager:
– Ask those involved to share the information they want to share, not just the information you want them to share. Be prepared to keep your mouth closed and your ears open.
Ask open-ended questions like, “What else do we need to know that is important for you to share?”
Questions like these not only enable the customer or the member of the public (stakeholder) to vent. It also allows them to be involved in the assessment of the problem.
– Ask them to prioritize information they have shared. Because they are venting, this is their therapy, and you will get a significant information dump. Have them help you figure out the really important information they have shared.
It annoys people with a problem or complaint when you assume you know what concerns them most.
– Ask them for their advice or opinions.
Oh, I know foresters, fishery experts, nuclear specialists and government managers all know what they are doing more so than the public does, However, they (read taxpayer here for government agencies and customer for small business) do have opinions and advice to share.
Being willing to ask for advice and opinions does not mean that you will necessarily take it. This should also be stated up front. However, when you understand their priorities, their values and their viewpoints, a solution can often be created which meets the needs of all parties involved.
– Offer them alternatives.
People are more committed to decisions that they help make. Not only are they committed, they have a stake in the decision and, as such, will help defend the decision, if need be.
In addition, if you are a small business person, you will demonstrate to the customer that you are taking that extra step to satisfy the complaint or meet the request.
When the request can’t be met, for whatever reason, be prepared to offer alternatives.
– Determine the minimum need.
Ask the customer or the stakeholder what he or she would like you to do immediately. This helps to diffuse their anger rather quickly. If this is not done correctly, especially in the government world, outrage can and often does result.
When members of the public become outraged, it often results in unwanted political or media involvement. Don’t believe this? Did you watch the public outrage over the shooting of the unarmed minority teenager in Florida? Or, perhaps you recall the “Occupiers” movement in the larger cities?
By taking some action, you gain some additional time to take care of the greater problem.
– Ask them to provide you some alternative solutions.
Be direct in your request. If you are a small business person say something like, “Ms. Jones, I’m stumped. I’ve offered you all the alternative solutions I can. What kind of solution would you propose?”
Often this makes people realize they are being unreasonable, or at the very least, it lessens the tension and re-engages all parties toward working to a mutually acceptable path forward.
You probably have figured this out by now. Underlying all these actions is your intention to build workable and meaningful relationships.
When you have built meaningful and sustainable relationships, and you have demonstrated that your behaviors match your words (you walk your talk), then your chances of building workable solutions greatly increases. Your willingness to involve the people impacted can make all the difference in solving a mutual problem.
Dr. L. Darryl Armstrong, Armstrong and Associates, is a consultant and counselor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-888-340-2006 or www.ldarrylarmstrong.com
Anticipating crisis as it relates to management issues is really not that difficult.
One of the best strategies is to always have a free-flow of communications throughout the organization. Many of our clients report that simply stopping to visit with key managers and asking a discovery question such as: “Anything out there today, this week or emerging that could create an issue or problem for us that we need to get on top of?” can over time result in a good flow of emerging and developing issues.
Of course, don’t expect good intel overnight especially if you have done little walk around management in the past.
However, once trust and credibility is established through your behaviors intel can be acquired.
Human Intelligence (frequently abbreviated HUMINT) is intelligence gathered by means of interpersonal contact, as opposed to the more technical intelligence gathering disciplines and there is nothing more valuable. Note the term: interpersonal contact!
Strategic crisis communication planning and thoughtful preparation can help you deal effectively with those simmering, latent and emerging crises, disasters, emergencies or other unusual events that may cause unfavorable publicity or perceptions of you and your organization even if you have created the crisis yourself …
- Be prepared – Although emergencies by their very nature are unpredictable, unless of course you create the crisis either intentionally or unintentionally by your behavior, it is possible to list and prepare for those potential negative scenarios that might occur during chapter activities. It also is possible to set up a communication system that can be activated in almost any emergency situation.
- Do the right thing – In any emergency situation it is imperative that you put the public interest ahead of the organization’s and your personal interest. Your first responsibility is to the safety and well being of the people involved. Once safety has been restored, face the public and face the facts. Never try to minimize a serious problem or “smooth it over” in the hopes that no one will notice. Conversely, don’t blow minor incidents out of proportion or allow others to do so.
- Communicate quickly and accurately – Positive, assertive communication focuses attention on the most important aspects of the problem and moves the entire process forward to resolution, even in a negative environment or with an antagonistic news media. Understand that the main stream media representatives have an obligation to provide reliable information to their audiences, and they will get that information whether or not you cooperate. If you won’t comment on the situation, you can be sure someone else will. You maintain some control by making sure you are at least one of the major sources of media information in a crisis. Give factual information, don’t speculate.
- Use social media – If you have established electronic relationships via Facebook and Twitter in advance of the crisis, now is the time to use social media to shape the message and quickly correct any mis-information being relayed by other sources.
- Follow up – Make amends to those affected and then do whatever is necessary to restore your organizations reputation in the community. Change internal policies or institute new ones to minimize a repeat of the crisis situation. Also, revise your crisis communication plan based on your experience.
- Successful communication will depend, in large part, on the preparations and relationships you have established long before the crisis occurs.
MOre information is available at: www.ldarrylarmstrong.com