Risk, Issues & Crisis

December 5, 2017

Recall team leaders must up their game on communication


Written by Julia Johnson, Associate Partner, Business Resilience

Imagine there’s a serious problem with your product. Complaint tweets are snowballing, journalists are pressing for comment and the sales team want to know what to tell customers.

If this happened in your business, would the Technical Manager be leading the recall team? And if so, is he or she equipped to handle communications?

While the function of the Technical Manager varies dependent on the size and structure of a company, the

fact remains that they are the person at the forefront of decision-making when a product problem arises.

This isn’t surprising; checking product specifications, running the traceability, beginning root cause analysis and so on are all required actions when there is a problem, so naturally they fall to the technical team.

This may seem logical, but given the size of the organisational task at hand and the multiple audiences to consider, the Technical Manager is under an enormous amount of pressure.

Communication Breakdown

In our work as business resilience advisors to the food industry we often put companies’ recall teams through simulated recalls.

These are much more than traceability exercises, involving role-played inputs from a raft of stakeholders, from customers and consumers to suppliers and regulators. Typically the technical actions are carried out flawlessly, but frequently teams fall down on communication – often as a direct result of the team leader being the technical head who focuses entirely on functional actions.

This can have big implications. At best, poor communication can create duplication of effort and inconsistent messaging. At worst it can lead to a relatively small issue developing into a major crisis as social media posts are ignored, different stakeholders are given contradictory information and, in the absence of a proper brief, company employees take it upon themselves to speculate to third parties on the nature of the problem.

What is the solution? As is often the case, there is no single answer which will apply universally. Rather, it is a case of considering what will work best for each organisation. A good starting point is to review the recall procedure to identify gaps.

Instinctif Partners’ RecallOptic tool can help assess a company’s recall readiness and show where there are missing elements, including around communication. To complete all the sections, RecallOptic also demands that colleagues from different functions talk to each other, which itself helps build closer working relationships.

Reassessing the suitability of the recall team leader role is another sensible step. Consider the person’s responsibilities, personality and ability to delegate. When it comes to the team,

consider the actions for each individual depending on the product issue. Training and working experience is also vital, ensuring staff

receive training on the communications requirements in the event of a product issue. As a minimum, such training should cover: internal communications, external communications and, as a sub-set of the latter, social and traditional media.

A communications plan, developed for each product issue but working to a template devised before the problem strikes, can help steer this process. Such a plan sets out all the stakeholders with a potential interest in the issue, the information they need to know in an agreed form of words, who will be informing them, how and by when. Once this is in place, the required internal and external communications become clearer.

Despite best intentions, functions often operate in “silos” and poor internal communication can lead to missed information, omitted actions, duplication of effort and inconsistent messaging. Therefore, efficient internal communication is vital to ensure that different functions – from the sales team to the security gate – receive the correct information, as appropriate to their need, and in a timely manner.