Crisis is Coming, and it’s HR’s Job to Prepare … Here’s How

Earlier this year, Starbucks stores around the country faced protests after a Philadelphia Starbucks’ manager had two black customers arrested for loitering. It was a PR nightmare for a company that thrives on its West Coast, feel-good vibe.

But instead of hunkering down, Starbucks launched its crisis communication strategy that included a policy change, CEO apology tour, and the closing of all Starbucks stores for an afternoon of employee anti-discrimination training – all of this led by HR.

Is your organization prepared for a crisis? It can be anything from workplace violence to a weather disaster to a #MeToo complaint. Regardless of the reason, every organization needs a plan – and that responsibility often falls on HR.

“Think of a crisis plan as an insurance policy. You may never need it, but if a crisis strikes, you’ll be happy to have it,” says David Rittof, president of Modern Management in Chicago.

While Starbucks handled things correctly, United Airlines didn’t fare as well. When it faced public outcry in 2017 for having an overbooked passenger dragged from his seat, the company took a defensive posture and blamed the “belligerent” passenger.

United realized that it messed up and tried to change course. But the damage was done. Since then, the company has revamped its crisis plan – and put HR in the driver’s seat of such responses. As United CEO Oscar Munoz said this year, “For such a long time, HR was the last resort to addressing problems after they had already risen … HR is now the first place we go.”

At the 2019 LEAP conference, David Rittof will give you a step-by-step plan to set up a crisis communication plan at your organization. Among the topics he will discuss:

1. Anticipate possible crises and their impact. It’s vital to examine your organization’s vulnerabilities, identify stakeholders and do your “what if” homework: What if we have to recall a product … shut down for a hurricane … replace an exec?

2. Select a crisis communication team. Include HR, the CEO, PR/communications director, directors of affected division, outside counsel, etc. Also, it’s important to choose the right spokesperson – someone with authority, strong communication skills and experience with media. But you don’t want someone overly polished.

3. Prepare a ‘holding statement.’ This is a few sentences that you’ll immediately send to the press, employees and customers as soon as a crisis hits. Learn what it should say (we’ll give you a sample statement at LEAP) and how you should distribute it, including social media.

4. Act fast to minimize damage. Respond quickly but factually. Waiting allows others to drive the narrative. Funnel all communications through one channel. Never say “no comment” to media inquiries. Also, don’t be afraid to apologize, but show empathy without admitting liability.

As more companies look to HR when disaster strikes, it’s up to you to be prepared. Get in compliance with all the expert advice you’ll find at LEAP 2019. Plus, have a fabulous time with your peers at the legendary Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.

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