Wednesday 26 September 2018

When crisis hits: just remain calm and always have a plan

'The show must go on.' - Gina London
'The show must go on.' - Gina London

Gina London

My daughter and I joined another mother and her three children for what was supposed to be a carefree week of mid-term holiday fun on one of Spain's sunny Canary Islands.

But two not so carefree events reminded me that careful and consistent preparation is the number one way to avoid crises - in both our personal and business lives.

I'll share our story along with these pointers as a crisis communications refresher course for us all.

We're Stranded

Our first mishap occurred the Sunday afternoon we arrived.

The travel agent had booked a shuttle to deliver us to our rental villa.

We presumed it was our villa as the six of us holding suitcases stood in front of the house where the driver had deposited us. But then, as we walked up, we couldn't help noticing the very large man reclining near the small swimming pool connected to the home. He insisted this was his villa.

A group of local cleaners onsite tidying agreed. The man's paperwork checked out. Upon close inspection, however, ours did not. We had the same house number as this villa in the same named resort community - but the street name on our paperwork was apparently from a town 40-minutes to the north.

Neither of the two phone numbers typed on our information sheet connected us to a live person. One didn't work at all and the other connected to a recording telling callers to phone again during regular business hours Monday through Friday.

Cranky children

Not surprisingly, our four children were becoming confused and cranky. Truth be told, so were we.

Fortunately, the cleaners stayed to help put the pieces of the puzzle together. Since they spoke fluent Spanish, they managed to contact the shuttle service which, in turn, managed to track down someone from the property management company. It was revealed that our villa actually was located in this complex - but six doors down. No explanation was provided for the error.

1 Make a plan/Share your plan

Does your company have a crisis plan and protocol? What is it? How is it communicated to all?

Because my friend had been to the Canaries before, I let her hold on to the rental agreement provided by the travel agent. I didn't even ask to see a copy. Shame on me.

I most likely wouldn't have noticed the errors with the local address. But sharing responsibility is part of being a team.

It's important for businesses and leaders to share and get buy-in around any plan.

2 Test your plan

Why didn't I think to test the phone numbers on the paperwork before we needed them?

Same thing goes for your business. Run a crisis simulation. What works? What needs addressing? Routine testing beforehand will provide an alert that something is amiss.

There's been a break-in

Our second mishap unfolded a few days later as we returned to our villa following dinner in town. Upon entering and turning on the lights, we saw clothing and papers recklessly scattered about. A break-in.

We gathered the shaking children. My friend called the police.

About 20 minutes later, four police officers arrived and discovered a broken window latch and a large handprint on the glass. The intruder had opened it from the outside - even though we thought we had it locked from the inside.

The police guessed he was only after passports or cash, which we had with us at dinner. So, the would-be robber took nothing.

But he gave us a big fright. We took the children's mattresses from the downstairs bedrooms and huddled together upstairs for the remainder of the night.

The next day, our travel agent contacted the property manager who sent a handyman to fix the window. Nothing more.

3 Maintain your plan

Regular testing of your plans - like regular servicing of window locks - is critical for a business. Organisations and employees change. Therefore, systems and plans must be re-examined and adjusted to correspond with the changes.

Sure, it was the property manager's responsibility to have secure windows.

But as responsible parents, we could have double checked for safety. No matter where you are in the company's org-chart, you can inquire about crisis preparation plans.

4 Above all, be compassionate

The fact that the property manager didn't offer to reduce the fee for our stay - or move us to another villa - or even send us a box of chocolates or a pizza for the kids as a sign of caring, is NOT the way to keep customers and gain business.

We were all safely aboard the plane back home to Ireland as I typed this with, of course, the beauty of hindsight.

And it is this hindsight that I vow to turn to foresight. I pledge to hold myself to the higher standard that I encourage you, my business partners, to also undertake.

If a crisis hits, being compassionate isn't an admission of guilt. It's a gesture of kindness - and that's always in order.

Remember to make crisis plans for your organisation and remember to be kind.

How well is your organisation prepared for a crisis? Are your spokespeople sufficiently trained? Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie

Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon

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