Leading in the land of crisis and recovery

This article is based on a keynote session during the 2nd International Alumni event uniting BMI Institute and six partner schools worldwide. Participants were taken on a journey of ‘managing in times of crisis’ with Natasha Konstantinova. Natasha is the Senior executive and a trainer who has spent decades leading global and corporate communications teams at Fortune 500 companies and international institutions in Europe and North America. She led numerous response teams through epic corporate crises: cyber-attack, corruption, undelivered products and services, healthcare crisis, litigation, and many others.

We don’t get to choose a crisis

Crises can appear at any time and affect anyone. The world and its institutions have been shaken by the economic crisis, terror attacks, natural disasters, cyberattacks, corruption, and so on and so forth. The list is endless. Natasha defines a crisis as an event that radically shakes up the planned order of our life, the environment we are in, breaks the status quo and forces us to change and make choices.

Natasha notes: “We don’t get to choose a crisis, but we do get to decide what we’re going to do about it – how we respond, how we set our mind, and what choices we make.”

Unfortunately, when a crisis hits, we don’t have the luxury to take hours and days to respond to it. We better be ready and prepared and mitigate it with the best possible outcomes for ourselves and our business.

“Do it wrong, and you will be dealing with damage control, lost credibility, and reputation for a very long time,” – says Natasha.

Today, no organization is immune to a crisis. Over the past years, the world has seen many global biggest brands come under fire: Facebook, Pepsi, Samsung, Toyota, Uber, Maersk, Shell, and many others. The way each company responded to a crisis had a significant impact on its brand, reputation, and financial performance.

Maersk is one of the few who got praised by many institutions worldwide for their considerate response to the major cyber-attack that threw a shadow on the company’s name in 2017. Systems and computers all over the world were destroyed or severely damaged. In the space of 2 hours, the company’s entire IT system was shut down. Maersk tackled the problem but faced significant losses in its revenue, operating margins, and market capitalization. “Maersk showed accountability, opted for transparent communication during the crisis, and was led from the top with the involvement of the CEO and leadership team. This approach served the company well, helped them to get through the crisis. And its brand value increased by 43 percent, something unique and unprecedented, making this a great case to learn from,” she said.

Drawing on this and other personal experience, Natasha shared the tips for leaders on managing crises, calling for strong leadership, accountability, consistent communication, and transparency:

  1. Recognize the signs of a crisis. Prepare in advance.

“Learn to recognize signs of a crisis, do not ignore them. It will help you to buy some time to prepare, focus on what you don’t know, make the right decisions.”

  1. Communication is key. Do it right.

“Communication is an art that takes great skill. What, when, and how you say something – matters. Every message you send – verbally or on social media, etc. – has the potential to change the course of events in your personal and professional life as well as impact another human being. Regardless of our job title or profession, it is in our best interest to learn and advance our communications skills and be prepared for the future.”

  1. Don’t be a hostage to your emotions – they’re a part of any crisis.

“When you are faced with a crisis, recognize and acknowledge your emotions. Do not ignore it. Do not cover it up. Recognizing your emotions will help you to move forward and make conscious decisions to shift and focus on the opportunities.”

  1. Before making any public statement, always gather and check all the facts.

This step is crucial in any crisis management process. Continuously collect all the available data and determine the scope of a crisis to make and assess critical decisions.

  1. Don’t attempt to manage a crisis on your own. Know your partners and stakeholders.

“Connect with your advisory group, council, people you know and trust. Seek their advice, enlarge that group. Bring together your crisis response team within an hour – virtually or face to face. Set clear roles and responsibilities. Also, seek to connect with your community, customers, partners, and employees. Talk to them. Find out how the crisis impacts them and ask how they can help. Ensure frequent communication to all your stakeholders.”

  1. Be transparent and open.

“Do not speculate. Don’t make-up for your mistakes. If you don’t have an answer, be honest and say so. Not knowing all the answers is normal and human. Sometimes in crises, it’s easier to be silent and say nothing. We know that trust and credibility are tough to earn in the first place. They are even more difficult, almost impossible, to win back [if lost].”

“All in all, as a leader, take responsibility and show your accountability.”

Natasha’s final advice: “One of the most critical pieces of advice I can give in crisis management is: show humanity, empathy and say sorry when needed.”

The recent world events have shown us that no one is immune to a crisis. The best thing we can do is learn, plan, and be ready to handle any crisis that might come up in the future.

More on BMI Knowledge: Leadership lessons from the battlefield: trust is the key