Critical Takeaways

  • Critical moments and crises transform organizations and that requires CEOs and executives to adapt to a new normal.
  • This change takes time and requires a transition period while you simultaneously manage routine operations and the after-effects of the crisis.
  • The key thing is to accept and embrace the new normal, not to ignore or try to hide from it. 

 

It starts with a reporter calling. Or worse, a series of negative Tweets that go viral. Perhaps it’s a letter from lawyers. Eventually, it’s a trial in the court of public opinion, difficult congressional hearings, and uncomfortable conversations with your board and key stakeholders.

I’m not personally aware of what’s went on inside Facebook during the second half of 2019, but the continual series of issues they’ve had to adapt to regarding privacy, data protection, and fake news has undoubtedly created a new normal for them. 

No longer are they darling of Wall Street and similarly loved on main street. The public is skeptical and talking about them in ways that they hadn’t previously. Meanwhile, governments around the world are holding them accountable for everything from the misuse of customer data to being a vehicle for nation-on-nation misinformation. 

Your situation might not be this grave, but you might recognize this pattern. A critical moment turns into a crisis but then something odd happens: the urgency recedes because suddenly you are in a new state of ‘normal.’ This is what your day-to-day work will look like from that point on, and you need to adapt to this new normal as quickly as possible. Trying to operate under the assumptions that existed previously without adapting will consume your organizations and exhaust your executives and employees. 

Therefore, whenever you find yourself in a new normal, you must adapt and adapt quickly. You need a new strategy from your communications leader, one that simultaneously manages your quarterly and annual goals while also addressing the issue you are dealing with. Communications needs to understand that the company’s operating under a cloud and there is a new reality of how people perceive the organization. Your brand and reputation have both been changed significantly and they need to adapt to this.

Moreover, you may also need to reorganize your team. If you have a typical communications team of three to six people, focused on outbound communications, media, and stakeholder inquiries, they may not be able to adapt to this new normal. They might be the right people to have in the room but will struggle to manage both their traditional, outbound role alongside the firefighting and damage control that transitioning to the new normal requires. So while it might not make sense to create (or maintain) a full war room – a physical and intellectual focal point for your response –  you may want to bring on one or two people, specifically responsible for the response during this transition period.

And don’t lose sight of the need to communicate the changes that this new normal has brought about with your staff. Internal messaging and town halls will be necessary to address the litany of questions that are likely to arise. Will there be layoffs? Are annual bonuses safe? Is the company really committed to its stated values?  Don’t forget that your staff is a key stakeholder group who deserve to know what is going on. Plus, if you treat them well, they will also be some of your most powerful advocates.

Finally, make sure that you still maintain some separation between routine operations and activities related to the crisis. Although this is your new normal, it is going to take some time for you to adapt to this fully and it’s going to be some time before you can manage both workstreams seamlessly. 

Some of this is achieved with the additional crisis-focused communicators and maybe you do establish a mini war-room. You put transition issues onto the agenda for the executive leadership team but don’t allow them to dominate that agenda. In short, you need to allocate specific resources, attention and team members to focus on these topics in the near-term, to allow other members of the team to focus on their tasks in the longterm. 

Over time, you can absorb these transition-specific activities into your routine, which is when you will know you have adapted fully to your new normal. Whatever you do, just don’t pretend it isn’t happening. Instead, embrace the new normal and start shaping it.

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