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Developing and managing a company’s external appearance is vital during a company crisis; however, don’t forget about managing your internal appearances. Your company needs an effective internal communication strategy bringing your team together to get through the crisis. This week we will be discussing how to manage internal appearances during a company crisis.  Materials and content for this article were provided as part of the MSBA Legal Summit Series, “Top Ten Tips on How to Manage a Crisis” and moderated by Marisa Trasatti, Esquire, partner at Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, LLP.  

Effective internal communication at a company is always vital.  In times of crisis, effective internal communication is an art that cannot be ignored.  Of course, a comprehensive internal communication plan should be a part of your crisis management plan and something that your crisis management team should prioritize.

As soon as the crisis occurs, many employees of the company will face direct questioning from customers.  The experts recommended several things that your crisis management team can do to address this issue.  Give your top managers and sales force a message that they are authorized to say, but caution all employees about responding individually to inside and outside questions.  Remind your employees that all communications, internal or external, should be funneled through the crisis management team. In addition, your employees should refrain from making comments about the company crisis on their personal social media accounts.  Your crisis management team may want to consider monitoring their employee’s personal social media accounts during the crisis to avoid any mass messaging of false information.  

It is critical to communicate quickly and effectively to your entire organization. Of course, having an internal communication plan pre-crisis is ideal.  Leaders need to inform and reassure the workforce and avoid feeding a panicking or volatile atmosphere. Address your employees directly about the crisis.  Many executives have learned that if the crisis management team or executive leadership of a company does not internally address their workforce’s concerns about the crisis, their employees will fill the void with conjecture or turn to other sources to get their information.  Plus, employees have a tendency to speculate about stuff.  Some of them only know half the story, so it is important to give your employees enough detail about the crisis that satisfies their curiosity. When you keep employees in the loop, they will become vital partners in managing the crisis and helping the company survive and thrive, said Sam Terzich, Director at Gallagher Bassett and a risk management expert.  Keeping your workforce in the loop also means that you must be consistent and as accurate as possible, said Mr. Terzich.

You may want to think out of the box to address your employees with video conferencing or town halls.  Aaron Burton, CEO of Sciton, Inc., approached internal communication during a recent crisis by having “coffee talks” with Sciton’s employees. Sciton was honest with their employees and chose to communicate and disclose a lot of information about the crisis and the company’s vulnerabilities. The company benefited from this approach he believes because their employees respected the honesty from the executive team.  Mr. Burton also emphasized that internal communications in time of crisis is not a one time disclosure, but needs to be frequent and consistent..     

The absence of internal communication may blind the crisis management team to potential downfalls or other aspects of the crisis that have not yet been fully realized.  There may be individuals within the company that have personal knowledge about detrimental information related to the crisis that the crisis management team doesn’t know about.  In addition, there is more than likely a possibility that someone within the company has expertise on the subject matter of the crisis and may have solutions to propose.  Identify the experts and “key opinion leaders” within the company, engage them and listen to their opinions and thoughts concerning the crisis.  

In sum: Lock down internal communications and instruct employees to refrain from communicating with third parties without first funneling questions or comments through the crisis management team.  Communicate with your employees often regarding the status of the crisis and update when necessary.  Monitor your workforce’s personal social media accounts for inaccurate dissemination of information about the crisis.  Seek advice and comment from key experts and opinion leaders within the company.    

You may watch the experts discuss the seventh tip on how to manage a company crisis below:

 

This article is the ninth of a 13-week part series that will discuss in detail how counsel can help their clients create a crisis management strategy and manage a company crisis.  Last week, the MSBA discussed the sixth of ten tips on how to manage a company crisis. Next week, the MSBA will discuss the eighth of ten tips to manage a company crisis with comprehensive suggestions and actions for implementation.  The immediate next two weeks we will address, individually, the remaining other tips to manage a company crisis.  The final week will include a comprehensive summation of all the myths and tips including the advice and counsel of the professional panelists listed below.  In week one of the series, the MSBA generally discussed the top ten tips on how to manage a company crisis.  Week two was a detailed summary of the 7 myths of a company crisis. The MSBA wishes to express sincere gratitude to the professional panelists, without whom it would not be possible to offer this series.

The top ten tips on how to manage a crisis were identified by the panel of crisis experts:

  •     Determine What Activities the Crisis Management Plan (Before the Crisis)
  •     Formulate the Crisis Management Team
  •     Assess the Crisis
  •     The Initial Response
  •     Insurance
  •     Manage the External Appearance:  Public Relations, Media and Customers
  •     Manage the Internal Appearance: Advising Employees and Communicating with      Key Opinion Leaders
  •     Adjust the Company’s Promotional & Sales Practices
  •     Response to Regulatory/Law Enforcement
  •     Concluding the Plan

Join us in the coming weeks as we continue to cover in detail the 10 Steps in Managing a Crisis.  

Panelists:                                                                 

Aaron C. Burton, CEO of Sciton, Inc. Sciton, Inc. is the largest privately held dermatological and medical device laser manufacturer.  Aaron shared his experience as CEO and especially the crisis that developed at Sciton during his first year. Aaron also generously shared how Sciton handled and endured the COVID crisis.   

Linda Lenrow Lopez, Director of Operations, Risk Alternatives, L3 Management Innovations, LLC.  Linda has more than 25 years of experience in private and non-private sector risk management. Linda shared her experience as a project manager and Director of Operations at Bechtel Corporation. Other roles Linda served at Bechtel include corporate risk manager for a global business unit and project risk manager. Linda currently works at L3 Management Innovations and draws upon her years of professional experience in this area to share with the group. 

Robert E. Scott, Jr., partner at Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, LLP. Robert handles litigation on insurance coverage, drug and medical devices and many other areas.  Robert shared his expertise on crisis management and his insights on planning ahead to control future crises.

Sam Terzich, Gallagher Bassett. Sam is a current director of the company and manages specialty claims including product liability, cyber, environmental, pollution and product recall.  Sam has been in the claims industry for 25 years and will address the insurance issues that arise during a company crisis.                 

Marisa Trasatti, Esquire, partner at Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, LLP, and also General Counsel to Sciton, Inc. Marisa is the moderator of the Top Ten Tips to Manage a Crisis. Marisa shares her unique experiences of managing a crisis as General Counsel for Sciton along with valuable lessons learned as counsel for an organization in the midst of a crisis. Marisa’s practice focuses primarily on civil litigation, with an emphasis on product liability litigation, including cases involving drugs and medical devices.  She is a past president of Maryland Defense Counsel and served as the DRI Maryland State Representative.