It has been a busy week for anyone looking at reputation management, emergencies and crisis communication. There have been so many things happening from the situation in London last weekend through to the ongoing disputes and disagreements about the Covid vaccinations. In all there was a common thread within the interviews and responses. There was a lack of willingness to recognise that things could be improved.
One of the essential elements of crisis communication is undertaking regular debriefs and learning from what is happening as it happens. When a problem emerges and develops you have to make sure you are reviewing the impact of decisions that are made, adapting what you do and learning when something does not go the way you had hoped. However, there appears to be an increasing trend in the statements that are made and interviews that are given not to accept things could be improved.
Are we really saying that everything we do when we are in the middle of a crisis is perfect? Is there no room for improvement in what we do? Do we have to wait until the crisis is ended before we reflect on what happened and the decisions that were made?
When we know that honesty and transparency are central principles for crisis communication then we need to be comfortable with talking about learning and development that is taking place. After a year living with a pandemic people are more knowledgeable about managing risk and more understanding about responders learning and developing. So why do we avoid saying that we are reviewing and learning as things happen?
It is too easy to avoid talking about how things are being developed and improved. Instead organisations appear defensive and almost with an arrogance that they did everything right in the response. This is not to encourage a blame game. In the middle of a crisis there is no time to be pointing figures, talking about blame or diverting attention to lengthy inquiries. All of those will no doubt be evident once the crisis is over. But that doesn’t mean that organisations need to maintain a position of being infallible while they are making decisions and taking action to respond.
Crisis communication responses need to be honest, open and have integrity, which means talking about a learning organisation that is meeting the demands of the situation in the best way but is reviewing and adapting as necessary.