Your Next Crisis May Have Already Happened

by Dan Ward

Professional communicators realize the importance of a crisis communications plan, guiding companies and clients on how to maintain the timely and accurate flow of information in a crisis situation.

We plan for the things that might occur in the future that could affect our clients’ business … weather-related events, workplace accidents, etc.  But the allegations that have made for breaking news since the first Harvey Weinstein story was published point out the need for companies to plan for emerging crises that may have been smoldering for years.

Perhaps the best thing to have happened as a result of the Weinstein scandal (aside from putting a stop to his alleged predatory actions) is the creation of an environment in which many women (and some men) feel for the first time that they are safe to call attention to their own stories of harassment.  And though media stories have focused primarily on the entertainment realm because of the celebrity status of both the accused and the accusers, we should expect more allegations to be made public in the corporate world.

Those in charge of corporate communications for their companies and clients should be doing two things immediately:  1) connecting with HR to ensure that corporate policies for preventing and reporting harassment are up-to-date and that proper training is taking place; and, 2) updating crisis communications plans to account for potential harassment claims.

This can be a difficult discussion to have with the CEO, but it’s a critical discussion to lead.  As with any crisis, our job is to prepare for the worst even if we believe the chances are slim that the plan will ever be put into action.  Preparing a response to a potential harassment claim is not an admittance of guilt or a suggestion of impropriety.  It is simply proper planning.

I listed the conversation with HR first, because a company’s actions in a crisis are much more important than its message.  The lack of a harassment policy can itself lead to a crisis of reputation for your company, so it’s critical that you ensure a policy is indeed in place.  Is the policy clear in defining harassment and prescribing penalties?  Does your company provide training for both supervisors and employees?  Is the process for filing complaints clear, and are complaints taken seriously?

Don’t let your discomfort with an issue that has long been taboo keep you from making the right decisions for your company and clients.

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