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Spring Journal

Volume 31, Issue 1

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Would you like to see your CEO on CNN talking about your company’s response to a major disaster? “Sure,” you answer, but would they know what to say?

According to the findings of the third annual PR Week/Burson-Marsteller CEO Survey, CEOs recognize the value of their role in a time of crisis, with 85 percent of them saying that it’s “very important” or “absolutely vital” that they serve as company spokesperson in a disaster.

Validating the importance of a CEO’s role as a company spokesperson in a time of crisis, a shocking 91 percent of CEOs surveyed said that it was “very important” or “important” to communicate with “all employees” in the aftermath of a tragedy. Some 74 percent of CEOs favored “face-to-face meetings” with employees as “absolutely vital” or “very important” to communicating after tragedy. The second most favored way to communicate with employees was via e-mail (62 percent).

Is your CEO familiar enough with your company’s business continuity program to talk about response, recovery and crisis management in terms that make sense to the public?

 

 

Remember, the public is comprised of shareholders, investors, customers, employees and other interested parties who will be positioned at the edge of their seats for any indication that the company may experience losses or have a hard time recovering.

In the old days (before Sept. 11) we used to intentionally write the executives out of our recovery plans. We didn’t want them involved in the crisis management plan either.

“They are strategic thinkers who aren’t very good at the day-to-day operational aspects of how things really get done,” we said. We put them in a “cloud” off to the side of the crisis management team leader (also known as incident commander).

The idea was that following a disaster, the hands-on operational types who were managing the response and recovery effort would communicate status to them on a regular basis. Oh, and be sure to keep those executives isolated from the media so they don’t say anything that will get the company further into trouble.
Those days are gone.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 have brought to attention the fact that the executives want to be directly involved, and intend to be directly involved, following an incident. As business continuity manager, you should take the time now to figure out their level of involvement and how it will occur.

Below are some tips to help you take proactive steps to involve and prepare your company executives in planning for and responding to a disaster or serious interruption.

Conduct an Executive Awareness Session – Get on the agenda for an upcoming executive meeting and refresh the collective executive memory regarding the importance of business continuity and being prepared. There is a lot of good information, footage and lessons learned from the WTC terrorist attacks that could be useful in garnering support.
• Coordinate with Public Relations – Make friends with your public relations/corporate communications department. Find out if there is a crisis communications plan that deals with handling the media and customers during an event. Often this plan also includes procedures and protocols for communicating with the executives.
• Understand Executive Expectations – Find out what level of involvement your company executives would like to have in responding to a disaster. It may differ depending on the executive, his/her management style, personality and commitment to the business continuity program. Be prepared to offer suggestions regarding the role he/she should take in case you are asked. The roles and responsibilities will depend on company size, culture and organization. • Align with the Crisis Management Plan/Emergency Response Plan – If the crisis management plan and/or emergency response plan is not in your area of responsibility, ensure that you read it, understand it and align any new initiatives. In many cases, crisis management plans cover executive involvement (although perhaps not to the degree necessary), employee notification and ongoing communication, and handling the media.
• Get Media Training – Media training is absolutely essential for anyone who is planning on being in front of the camera or quoted by a media source. Everyone knows that the media has a tendency to air (write) the most quotable excerpt, and that can be troublesome. Get media training and turn the media into your ally by understanding how to create a coherent, impactful message that wins confidence.
Create Executive Plans – Many times the role of the executives is glossed over in the business continuity plan. Unlike some other aspects of response planning, there isn’t really a standard for executive involvement. It depends mostly on the corporate culture, personality and level of involvement the executives want to have. Developing executive plans for each top executive is becoming more commonplace. The development of these executive plans helps foster a meaningful dialog on how the executives view their role in responding to a crisis. Some of the areas included in an executive plan are: communication methods, critical contact information, succession planning, alternate work location, communication guidelines, media tips, etc.

The most important thing to remember is that good communication is absolutely essential to a successful recovery. Don’t let poor communication planning be your downfall.

It is prudent to do as much as you can to ensure that communication from executives to employees, the media and the general public is as professional, timely, accurate and favorable as possible following a disaster or significant adverse event.


Lisa Trousdale, CBCP, is a senior manager with Ernst & Young in the Security & Technology Solutions Group, based in San Jose, Calif.