Alleged communications with Russian officials, an Attorney General recusal, and claims of impermissible wiretapping. Guess you could say it’s been an active past few days in the world of U.S. politics. Heck, it’s been a flurry of activity for a while now, and more is certainly to come, starting with the revised executive order regarding immigration that was announced today.
Interestingly, and perhaps appropriately, I happened to watch a movie called Our Brand is Crisis two days ago while flying home from a business trip. The 2015 movie, which is based on a 2005 documentary of the same name, is a fictionalized account of the involvement of American political campaign strategists during the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. As a form of entertainment, the movie has its flaws but does have a great performance by Sandra Bullock (and though I have heard the documentary is much better, I haven’t personally seen it yet). I won’t get into much in the way of specifics except to say that in the movie, Bullock’s campaign manager and her team decide that their “brand is crisis”—namely, that their strategy is to declare and sell crisis (economic, cultural, and social) by whatever means necessary to promote their candidate.
Now, I think we can agree that selling crisis is a political maneuver that all campaigns and politicians, regardless of party affiliation, have used over the course of our nation’s history. Almost every candidate runs on a platform that he or she has the best plans to solve the voter’s problems, and this was no different with President Trump, who often cited the United States’ economic and immigration issues as reasons for a change from the Washington establishment. In today’s politically charged climate, however, selling crisis as a means to gather support or opposition is a virtual daily news cycle.
Opponents of the Trump administration claim that Trump went beyond the pale in promoting crisis and has not offered effective solutions and that the President’s allegations of impermissible wiretapping are simply a means to deflect from the administration’s issues by creating a new contention out of whole cloth. Supporters of the Trump administration claim that many in the media, and other individuals on the left, are improperly attacking the administration’s credibility and ability by stirring up unsubstantiated crisis, including claims of improper communications with Russian officials. Regardless of what side you agree with, the fact is that wherever you turn, crisis is front-page news.
What this means for employers
Obviously, from an employment and HR perspective, the approach is radically different. While politics may involve the selling of crisis to drum up support or opposition, running or managing a business necessitates procedures meant to prevent crisis, and to manage crisis effectively when it does rear its ugly head.
This doesn’t mean just from an employment perspective and the potential problems that could be raised due to employer-employee issues. This also includes nonemployment-related crises—those that effect the business’ reputation, customer relations, and bottom line. In such cases, you not only have to recognize that such crises could eventually seep into employment-related issues and employee morale, but understand and think out of the box as to how you can use your employees in a positive manner within your organizational structure as a means to respond to this crisis, including reducing any potential negative impact. This means shifting the thinking of employees as a burden from a legal compliance point of view to understanding that employees at all levels can affirmatively be part of crisis prevention and be a visible and positive liaison to your customers and the world in diffusing the effects of a crisis that does unfold.
Regardless of the source of the crisis, effective internal communications are keys to crisis avoidance and management. Creation of appropriate policies and procedures, while of course integral, has no positive affect if the organization doesn’t carry out effective communication of those policies, appropriately follow those policies, and prepare ahead of time through scenario planning and messaging.
Be proactive and anticipatory. Provide training and test protocols. Define risk and react appropriately. Give employees the tools and means necessary to report issues so that you are aware before it escalates further. By taking these steps, you will not only limit the possibility of crisis within the workplace, but more importantly be able to manage that crisis if it comes up unexpectedly.