At home, I’m the mom of two rambunctious, fun and occasionally out-of-control little boys. At work, I’m a partner in our public affairs and crisis management firm. While the two roles may seem vastly different, it turns out my 9-to-5 is not that all that dissimilar from my other full-time job of parent.
Here’s a few principles in both my jobs that apply to successfully managing a crisis, whether at home or beyond:
1. Stop the bleeding – literally or otherwise. Before you can repair the damage, you have to triage and defuse a crisis situation. At home, that means, applying a band-aid to a scraped knee or giving hugs and kisses to stop the sobbing. For our clients, step one is to regain control of the situation before starting to address the longer-term reputational damage.
2. Always have a plan – and a backup plan, and a backup to the backup. The best crisis managers start with developing a comprehensive strategy that looks around corners and considers all the potential worst-case scenarios paired with tailored approaches to mitigate each situation. With my kids, I’ve had to learn this same principle the hard way: Always bring extras. Extra water bottles, extra toys to distract at the restaurant, and in the case of my newly potty-trained toddler, extra underwear and pants. Oh, and DO NOT forget the baby wipes.
3. Communicate with clear messages. In the event of a crisis, simple and straight to the point is always better. You don’t have much time to get your side of the story out. Make sure you’re doing so with speed and clarity. I violate this rule sometimes with my kids by over-explaining why I’m disciplining them only to be returned with blank stares, and sometimes worse.
4. Ensure two-way communication. Creating a feedback loop in a crisis is critical to ensure you’re getting all the information you need to mitigate a problem and to assess how your plan is working. That real-time feedback from your key stakeholders can help you calibrate the plan and respond quickly to ensure you don’t get off course. With my kids, sometimes mom messes up. If I’m not listening to my kids, I may misinterpret the intention behind an action or I reprimand the non-offender of the latest brotherly skirmish (so much wrestling at our house). Best to be an active listener with the littles.
5. Be consistent. For our clients, we always advise applying a “campaign mindset” to get out of a crisis. You have to make sustained and disciplined efforts to make real progress in rebuilding your organization’s reputation. With kids, inconsistency will ensure your demise. Again, having learned the hard way, if parents aren’t consistent with discipline, kids will impressively find ways to exploit the openings.
6. Be ready for anything. While we teach discipline and consistency, organizations also have to be in a responsive, ready state, being agile enough to take advantage of windows of opportunity or to quickly douse a potential problem. With my boys, I’ve learned that even turning away for just a few seconds can spell disaster. Gravity is not our friend, but my boys have yet to decipher the difference between a fig cookie and Newton’s law. (My own mother wisely advised me a few years back to know the quickest way to the nearest ER. Check, done.)
Last but not least, remember this universal principle: It’s not a matter of if but when a crisis happens. So when your organization confronts the inevitable of something going wrong, just think: What would mom do?
This article was written by Executive Vice President Natalie Bauer Luce. Natalie is a seasoned communications and public affairs strategist with extensive experience at the intersection of government, law, politics and business.