Learning to Live with Risk
Firms of all sizes operating across a variety of sectors have faced unwelcome challenges and pressures in the past few months that show few signs of easing. There is potentially heightened uncertainty ahead as the economy slowly comes back to life.
While phase one of the Government’s response to Covid-19 gave clear instructions to people and businesses to stay at home, we are now in a period where it is much less clear and more open to individual interpretation. There is continuing room for error as we learn to live with the virus and its social and economic consequences, as well as an ongoing duty for those in charge to keep people safe.
The public and press have been eager to point out the organisations who have successfully taken on this responsibility, tackling the issues head on and responding sensitively. In particular, Airbnb has been lauded as giving a masterclass in empathy and compassion despite operating in one of the hardest-hit sectors.
Helped by increasing digitisation, financial services firms have largely escaped the complete shutdown experienced in other parts of the economy, such as retail and property. But they have certainly not escaped heightened scrutiny as consumers, business owners and politicians look to banks, insurers and others to be part of the solution in the nation’s hour of need.
Expectations dictate that – having emerged from the other side of the global financial crisis – firms have had more than 10 years to get the right measures in place to support their customers and wider stakeholders in troubled times, rather than clinging to a narrow focus on the financial benefit to shareholders.
A poll following our recent webinar on communicating in a crisis revealed that 90% of PR practitioners saw Covid-19 as an opportunity to restore public trust in financial services, while 94% said it was a challenge to meet higher standards of conduct. Business’ ability to rise to this challenge over the long-term is about to be put to the test.
Opportunity or threat?
While Covid-19 is the obvious and ongoing crisis that presents a range of challenges for businesses, they should not be blinkered to others that may occur. EasyJet has been one of the hardest hit companies as a result of the pandemic and has also gone public on a widespread cyber-attack affecting millions. Its recent statement on the hacking of its customers’ data was handled in a factual and apologetic way by the airline. While it does not lessen the very real consequences of the breach, it is a lesson in getting the basics of crisis communications right.
Now is the time to genuinely add value and demonstrate leadership and legitimacy and how you communicate is just as important as what you are saying. To achieve this, keep in mind the three Cs of crisis communication:
- Concern: Above all, behave as a human being first so you can empathise with your stakeholders and as a business second.
- Commitment: Demonstrate commitment to fulfilling your stakeholders’ trust in your position of responsibility.
- Control: Strike the balance between showing that you are in control by acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers, but are anticipating outcomes according to the various stages of the crisis.
Stay on the front foot
Maintaining a level head and getting the basics right can be easier said than done. Businesses do not make this easier on themselves, with more than one in 10 (13%) communications practitioners telling us they do not always conduct a post-crisis review. While it is hard to find the time to capture learnings, it is vital to do so.
How you respond to a crisis is not only a test of your company’s leadership, but also of its resilience. While you may have felt you have nailed your company’s response to Covid-19 in the early weeks, now is not the time for complacency with the future remaining fraught with risk. Indeed, we found 44% of communications practitioners say they are not sufficiently resourced to deal with a long-running crisis – and there will undoubtedly be further challenges ahead, as the health crisis becomes a financial one for many businesses and households across the country.
Taking time to evaluate where you are at and looking ahead to the recovery may seem like a luxury, but now is the optimal time to act on insight and become even more resilient for whatever the future may hold. You only have to look at EasyJet to be reminded that coronavirus is not the only crisis facing companies.
Less well established, and arguably more immediately beneficial, are mid-crisis reviews. Our Business Resilience specialists have extensive experience of risk, issues and crisis management. This blog by one of the team, Tim Field, explores the four mid-crisis checks to do now as well as information on the free 30-minute consultation to guide you through a no-obligation top-level review of your response against international best practice. Do not hesitate to get in touch with any questions on the process, or what the service involves.