It’s very important that a company have a clear understanding of its culture before a crisis occurs. We recently led a crisis simulation at a major international corporation. Afterward, the CEO asked if I thought his decisions during the crisis lived up to the culture and the values of the company. So I asked, “What are your values?” When he replied that the company aspired to put the customer’s needs first and to provide the highest level of service. I had to say, “In that case, the answer is ‘no.’” Because during the simulation, the company spent too much time playing defense and trying to protect its interests before telling its customers what was happening.
Many companies have not really examined their culture from the perspective of a crisis. If, in the middle of a crisis, you are asking yourself which of your values will inform your actions, then you are probably not managing the crisis well.
If you want to be authentic and transparent in a crisis—assuming that is your objective—then you need to be committed to those values in advance. Your executive team, your legal team, and your communications team need to understand that your actions must uphold those values. In my forthcoming book, Brand Under Fire, I discuss the five principles of good crisis communications: Authenticity, transparency, speed, agility, and creativity. Deciding in advance which values are paramount in crisis will aid your speed and agility.
Another factor to consider: What is the net perception of your company that you want your constituents to have in the aftermath of a crisis? Do you want your stakeholders to regard your organization as forthcoming, authentic, responsible—or something else?
The upshot: Before you can focus on crisis preparedness, you need to focus on your cultural identity. That identity and the values that exemplify it will inform your response to crisis.
In an emergency, your values should serve as your North Star.