Strategic communication in crisis management – Lessons from the Airline Industry

Author: Sally J. Ray

The context of plane crashes is a central example of what threatens the legitimacy of the airline, its image and reputation, and the financial situation. It has a tendency to transmit across the industry, hitting not only the victims and the airline, but also the stakeholders. The aviation society must therefore protect its long-term interests and public image. To this end, an effective communication plan is critical. This can be built up according to the course of a crisis in three phases: pre-crisis, crisis and post-crisis. Furthermore, it should be borne in mind that the crisis extends to more than just the organization. It is a system with many interdependent variables, so focusing on only part of the system is limiting our understanding of the crisis and the communication involved.

In a plane crash, trying to understand the necessary communication raises a number of questions: which factors influence communication? How do these factors define the boundaries of the organization’s efforts to repair the reputation damage and resolve the crisis? Which communication strategies are the most effective? Which variables influence that effectiveness? How can an organization prepare to manage one of the crisis?

To effectively address the effects of a crisis, managers must understand its nature, management rules and the implications of right and wrong communications. This provides a sense of predictability and expectations when a crisis occurs.

Throughout the story, theory and practice are intertwined. The practice consists of a number of drawn-out cases of plane crashes, in which the communication is dissected in a “ scrutinizing ” way, each time identifying a number of crystal-clear lessons.

The six most important lessons of strategic communication in crisis management from the aviation sector are perhaps :

  • A key to effective crisis management is the development of a responsible organizational culture that values ​​safety and is sensitive to the dangers of its operational operation.
  • Planning for crises reduces some of the uncertainty associated with managing a crisis; however, crisis managers must anticipate the challenges of applying a rational plan to an irrational situation. This requires a 360 ° view: people with different backgrounds, education and interests must be recruited or a great deal of education and training must be provided.
  • An organization in crisis must communicate from the beginning that it is in control and is concerned about the situation.
  • An organization must be sensitive to stakeholder perceptions of the actions and reactions of the organization during the crisis.
  • The media attention determines the seriousness, significance and direction of the crisis and is directly reflected upon the organization’s image; therefore crisis managers need to have a very good understanding of the journalistic processes in covering a crisis.
  • When an organization defends its position or image, its strategic communication choice must be determined against the background of this unique crisis situation.

Crisis Communication Planning – A Guide to Dealing with the Media during a Crisis

Author: Tim Herrera

The essence of crisis communication is told by the author based on checklists. He begins his story with a search for a definition of crisis. What types of crises that can affect the organization are we talking about here ? The examples he gives can all be classified as tame crises:

  • Accident / death
  • Crime
  • Natural disaster
  • Employee misconduct
  • Financial problems
  • Protests
  • Product recall

The big advice is to plan ahead of time in case a crisis strikes. You do that by:

  • Make emergency plans in advance
  • Create a crisis management team
  • Create a strategic communication plan
  • Appoint a spokesperson
  • Create key messages
  • Determine the best communication channels
  • Never to talk about things you don’t know about
  • Be honest and open
  • Learn to relax
  • Determine the stakeholders and accept the interested parties
  • Draw up a response checklist
  • Determine what the media can ask for during a crisis
  • Determine a crisis meeting agenda in advance
  • Determine if you will need outside help.

It is important in the work of the incident management team that it is complementary to the operation of the media response plan. It is best to have a group of managers / volunteers who can be called together quickly. The spokesperson can then work with them to disseminate the information where necessary.

Questions to answer when drawing up the strategic communication plan are:

  • What’s the issue about?
  • What’s the solution?
  • Who can help create change?
  • Who should be mobilized?

These questions are regardless of whether you work in the short or long term, the answers will determine what it will be.

When you get these questions right, answer in a single sentence “what this is all about”. What do you want people to remember from how you handle this crisis? Stay with the core of that message and go further on from there.

Also identify the “rulers” in the community: they could be students, political leaders, legislators, business people, parents… and keep them in mind when creating the message. This does not only apply in times of crisis.

What should not be forgotten at the end, but neither during the handling of the crisis and the crisis communication is an evaluation : how you will determine whether the plan worked out or not. Whether the plan was successful. This indicates opportunities to adjust the plan but also to adjust the business.

And another important fact: during a crisis, continuing to respond and communicate is of vital importance.

The immediate duties of the spokesperson and the crisis communication team are:

  1. First alarm
  2. Gather the facts
  3. Verify the information and keep the information up to date
  4. Prepare the media (calls and visits)
  5. Get ready to receive reporters.
  6. Follow-up of the media and current relations

Project Risk and Opportunity Management

Authors: Agnar Johansen ; Nils OE Olsson ; George Jergeas ; Asbjorn Rolstadas .

One issue the authors are addressing seems to me to be the shortage of opportunity management in project management, while risk management is constantly evolving. They focus on a very large number of aspects of project management, which are always concisely discussed. Their starting points are that projects are to be successful, and what that means for the project, the parties that make up the project and what the contact points are with all other management points of attention. One conclusion is: the mindset must change.

According to the authors, a project is successful if this is the case in 3 areas, namely :

– Project objectives

– Business objectives

– Social objectives.

If we see the social objectives as achieved, we arrive at the following schematic overview:

Project goals achieved?
Yes No
Achieved your business goals? No Wasted investment Failed project
Yes Successful project Limited return on investment

 

Project challenges in the oil and gas industry are:

– The project costs that run up to 100%.

– The percentage of the engineering design that is complete before approval is given to commence expenditure ranges from 15% to 80%.

– The poor team performance due to a misalignment between management and the project team, and a lack of communication.

– A decreased competence of all project teams (owner, engineering , construction and manufacture): there are no “A” teams anymore.

In order to meet the project challenges from the start, the owners must take the time to define and plan the project. For example, they must:

– Appoint the right people to represent and advise them; they must be qualified, experienced and capable of working with others.

– Understand the internal and external risks and opportunities involved in the project, quantify them and make financial provisions.

– Clarify time schedule, cost and quality.

– Charging project costs over the entire life cycle of the project, not just initial costs of the construction.

– Ensure that the financial and other resources required for the project are available when needed.

– Ensure compliance with legal obligations and regulations.

– Monitor progress and performance with a focus on emerging opportunities and risks.

For all involved, the motivation behind the project is value creation. Important for creation of value is that the project (executing) organization brings business objectives into account, in addition to the project objectives, to understand the rationale for the project and that it works in the best interest of the owner. He, in turn, has to monitor the project closely and understand the interest of the business of the implementer (executive organization).

There are often conflicting interests between the owner and the implementing organization. Therefore, an agreement must be sought.

However, society also always has an interest in the project, for value creation from their point of view, e.g. through job creation.

These different points of view of value creation, i.e. different interests between these three parties, are the cause of each time a different view of opportunities and risks in the management process.

That brings unpredictability into view.

Unpredictability in projects is due to uncertainty . Uncertainty can be defined as any lack of information. Uncertainties lead to risks and opportunities in projects. So it is important to know the nature of the uncertainties. These are the ( un ) known ( un ) knowns .

Every uncertainty has one or more of the following causes:

– Nature

– Man

– Technology

The uncertainties of nature in projects have a low frequency but have a huge potential impact.

The uncertainties in projects caused by humans include the behavior of individuals, as well as the decisions made within and between organizational units. It stems from the behavior of the stakeholder (s) of the project. Project management may not be able to fully understand their rationale, motivation and business interests.

The uncertainties in projects that arise from technology concern the potential malfunctioning of equipment and systems. This can be based on design errors, damage incurred during transport or storage before it is deployed in the project, construction errors, poor testing, machine breakdown, … Usually these can be traced back to a human error.

Uncertainty management involves the change management that occurs throughout the project life cycle, to correct errors and unrealistic or unfeasible design , to comply with laws and regulations, to ensure occupational safety and to maximize the benefits of the project (by reducing risks and exploit opportunities).

Risks appear spread over time. Projects that seemed healthy at first can suddenly become unmanageable. Risks combine and interact to end up in chaos. Many risks are linked to the life cycle of the project. Risks with a link to legislation, e.g. can disappear quickly after approval for the project has been granted. Technical risks decrease as engineering follows. Some risks, especially the market-related ones, go further as they are independent of the life cycle. Global market risks are beyond the reach of virtually everyone involved. By removing risks in this way, you can create opportunities.

New opportunities can arise throughout the project life cycle. These can be internal conditions, such as: better competencies of employees, effective working methods, better or more resources available. It can also be external conditions, such as collaboration with other planned projects in the vicinity, so that the business generally saves time, but also for the user, such as installing sewerage during earthworks for road works … It can also save money by working together making purchases from a common supplier, or purchasing new products that make the work easier for several parties or guarantee better quality. This may require the project manager and owner to allow changes to the original project plan. However, there may be a risk that something will fail when an opportunity is exploited. In that case, active involvement, knowledge and authority are required of the management to allow the benefits of the opportunities to materialize.

Project management is also related to innovation management. Innovation is often used to mean something new, as a product, service, or output, and / or a new process, procedure or method. We add that innovation is also identifying and creating opportunities in projects. Also, identifying and creating opportunities, allowing them to materialize and reap their fruits can encourage innovative and creative thinking in organizations.

At the end the authors are talking about the changed mindset in the industry: Industry Best Practices : an adaptive and aggressive approach.

The adaptive approach is a flexible planning philosophy with a lot of authority delegation to the project team, which allows them to make qualitative and time saving decisions ‘on-the-spot’ without having to refer to a higher authority, and without fear of ‘blame & shame’. This agile planning is needed continuously throughout the project, starting with a moderate upfront effort, followed by continuous updates at a lower level, providing the opportunity to make quick decisions. This creates the opportunity for project managers to anticipate future problems, make an evasive maneuver for them, scan for future opportunities, and make the necessary changes for them.

Sometimes an offensive method is needed to push voluntary change, thereby adding value to the business value over the project life cycle. This approach is perhaps best demonstrated in disaster response / recovery projects. These situations represent the need for diversity in project delivery: the project manager makes the best on-the-spot decisions regarding work logic, procedures, schedules and changes. The project manager challenges the limits of the project and the limited authority of his team.

Effective Opportunity Management for Projects – Exploiting Positive Risk

Author: David Hilson

Released in 2004 , with references to texts from years earlier, but still blazingly topical, underused and under-studied : opportunity management as part of risk management. Benefits management for projects in this case …

The author advocates embedding opportunity management in existing risk management that focuses too much or only on threats. His argument for doing this is that they are two sides of the same coin called uncertainty. The fact that at present in a number of standards the uncertainty of the achievement of the goals may imply either a positive deviation or a negative deviation from their achievement, is underused and too little known in today’s companies.

Throughout reading, it is discovered that it can indeed be incorporated into a single management process, provided a number of minor extensions to existing threat management. This makes the book really to be not just regarded as a mere opportunity management process description: it is in fact a possible comprehensive risk management process description with some tips and tricks. This actually shows that the expansion of threat management with the management of opportunities entails virtually no additional work, but can potentially be very profitable in terms of ROI.

In order for it to succeed, the author sees four CSF (critical success factors) as follows:

  1. You need to know what you mean by the word “risk”.
  2. You have to know how to do it in practice.
  3. You need the right support: people, resources, methods.
  4. A person must know how he thinks and reacts in order to be able to adjust risk behavior.

One possible conclusion after reading is that it is always an advantage to engage in benefits management. People are often too focused on problems.

The fact that this work is written for projects does not detract from the fact that many ideas are valid in the management of processes.

The Intelligence Trap – Revolutionise your thinking and make wiser decisions

Author: David Robson

Very important in making decisions is a psychological view of one’s own leadership. Namely a view that prevents you from falling for the “intelligence trap”. What exactly is that?

In fact, the intelligence trap is a direct result of some people’s inability to think outside of their expectations, to come up with an alternative view of the world where their decision is wrong rather than right. People with very high intelligence are more subjected to this than people with moderate intelligence. Nobel laureates sometimes suffer from this, so often that there is a term for it: “Nobel disease ”.

An active intervention to this pitfall can make use of so-called “ evidence- based wisdom ”. This can be imparted to all ages and to anyone, although one is more likely to benefit from it with moderate intelligence.

A first step is to understand what wisdom is. A definition of “wisdom” is: “he is wise who recognized the limits of his own knowledge” (Socrates) . Apart from that, good factual knowledge and training remain important.

Very dangerous is the fragility of the expert. For example, by relying heavily on schemes and protocols, which one must have, he may have trouble adapting to changes in the environment. Flexibility is therefore important. Personal bias is also a problem. One step towards a solution is to adapt the own thinking. This can already be done by reading about it, with inspiring examples. Placing a beginner with another, detailed, view is also an advantage because he or she does not yet know the patterns and therefore sees and can indicate differences in details of the case with regard to the general rule. It can also be done by taking a distant position. An example of this is the listing and quotation of important aspects of a situation or object, spread over several days. In addition, being able to listen to your own emotional compass is an advantage. This has to do with being able to relate the events in your environment and your (gut) feeling in the right way. After all, being able to spot deliberately crafted bullshit is a necessary skill. To this end, the author provides a list of some methods by which false truths are sometimes told.

What can save us from the pitfall are: cognitive reflection, intellectual humility, active “open- minded ” thinking, curiosity, refined emotional awareness and a “ growth mindset ”. We find these things in the nine virtues of the Intellectual Virtues Academy. These are divided into three categories as follows:

Getting started

Curiosity: the opportunity to be amazed and to investigate and ask the “why” question. A thirst for understanding and a desire to explore.

Intellectual humility: the willingness to recognize one’s own limits and mistakes, regardless of intellectual status or prestige.

Intellectual Autonomy: Having the ability for active autonomous and self-guided thinking. The ability to reason and think for oneself.

Executing well

Attention: to be there with your thoughts 100% on the matters of the learning process. Keep distractions at bay. Be with the thoughts and commitment completely on top of the topic.

Intellectual carefulness: the ability to notice and avoid intellectual pitfalls. A commitment to accuracy.

Intellectual thoroughness: the ability to seek and find explanations. Dissatisfaction with rather apparent or superficial and (too) simple explanations. Reaching for a deeper meaning and understanding.

Handling challenges

Open- mindedness : an capacity to think outside the box. Responds honestly to competing perspectives.

Intellectual Courage: Being ready to persevere in thinking or communicating with the risk of fear of being embarrassed or of failure.

Intellectual tenacity: a will to face an intellectual challenge and struggle. Keep your eyes on the prize and don’t give up.

These aspects of the eternal learning mindset apply to an individual, but how do you put together a ‘dream team’? It depends.

If you have a team where everyone has to do things clearly separately, without overlapping job content, then you can use a team of top players: there is no competition.

If you have to put together a team of competitors, where there is overlapping job content , then it is important that they are not all toppers, only about 60% are toppers, but then teamwork, being in tune with each other, weighs more.

With a crisis team, any type of crisis team, it’s the best of both worlds. In a CRT (Crisis Respons Team), for example the company fire service team, it is clearly the second. At a CET (Crisis Expert Team, where a team member might handle a file from A to Z , it might be the first. But with the CMT (Crisis Management Team), where there is little or no overlap between the participants, but there is still a need to work together because people must be able to rely on each other’s results, it is a pure cross: you need 100% toppers, but they also have to be able to work with each other. In the latter case, intellectual humility is an issue, because in this team one often has to deal with high profiles who “know very well what they are worth”. Antibodies against this are exercises in which people learn to share information and are assessed on the integration of each other’s point of view in their own thinking.

A change of mentality that can be useful to contribute positively to this is to initiate discussions throughout the hierarchy, between the different layers of the hierarchy, and to recognize and hear people as experts in the field of, for example, their own ideas about occupational safety.

Also not to be ignored is the use of statistics from near misses. After all, it has been statistically proven that a serious event is preceded by a number of near misses. That was the case with the Challenger , with the Columbia, (NASA) but actually also Covid-19 was preceded by, among others, SARS and MERS. There was a failure to learn lessons and to implement them into the future, or to persist in these lessons learned. For that you need the mentality of a “high reliability ” organization. It has been shown for this type of organization (research by Karl Weick & Kathleen Sutcliffe ) that they exhibit the following characteristics:

Expect to Fail: Employees go to work and every day can be a bad day. But the organization rewards employees for reporting their mistakes.

Reluctance to simplify interpretations: employees are rewarded for questioning assumptions, and for being skeptical of the wisdom of others.

Sensitivity to operations: Team members continue to communicate and interact to increase their understanding of the situation and look for the actual origin of each anomaly.

Commitment to resilience : acquiring the necessary knowledge and resources to bounce back after a negative event. This includes the ‘pre mortems ‘ and the discussions of near misses.

Respect for expertise: here the open communication between different layers of the hierarchy is important, and the intellectual humility of those at the top.