I have worked in several organizations over the past 15 years, so I have experienced the aftermath of monstrosities like 9/11 and the great recession both personally and professionally. But I find that these are the most stimulating times I’ve seen, as organizations grapple with constant, inconceivable threats from the internal and external environment. Amidst such volatility, it’s not easy to circumvent every problem – no matter what proactive measures you might have in place. To make matters worse, social media platforms foster incessant scrutiny and instant information sharing. So how can leaders manage change during a crisis?
We need to take care of the sniffles before they become a deadly flu. A recent example that stood out for me was that of Starbucks. The arrest of two black men for trespassing when they refused to leave a Starbucks in Philadelphia caught our nation’s attention. What resonated with me is how Starbucks avoided a PR catastrophe. They used the following measures to manage change during the crisis:
Within four days of the incident, Starbucks made a public statement. Kevin Johnson (CEO) appeared on news channels to issue a public apology and flew to Philadelphia to meet with the two men, as well as government officials and community leaders. Despite the customers’ boycotts and protests, Starbucks took the time to talk to the right people and get all their facts in place, then they pressed all the right buttons.
Speed matters when you manage change during a crisis. It’s essential to be nimble, but don’t be too quick; get all the data points you need to understand the problem. Once you do that, you can create an action plan.
Starbucks acknowledged the issue and adopted the same stance across Twitter, news channels, in-person meetings, etc. to apologize and take corrective measures.
Be honest and genuine in your messaging. Everyone involved in the crisis communications needs to be aligned to provide consistent messages. Our audiences use many ways to access information, so use as many communication channels as you need for maximum reach.
Starbucks decided to close all 8,000 company-owned stores for an afternoon to hold “unconscious bias” training. Even though the company stands to lose more than five million dollars in the afternoon shutdown, they are ready to make that investment. This is just the first in the series of planned remedies.
Learn from the problem and see what can be done — not only to solve it but ensure that it doesn’t recur. A stitch today saves nine tomorrow.
Kevin Johnson led from the front and did all of the above. He owned the problem, made it his priority, personally communicated with the necessary parties and announced the plan of action.
To steer a ship through troubled waters, leaders should demonstrate ownership, emotional intelligence, courage, and creativity. No one can avoid all difficult situations but what you do with them differentiates the good from the great. If we keep our laser focus on the great, no adversity can sink us.