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“No News IS News” During a Crisis

“No News IS News” During a Crisis
It’s clear that one of the most challenging aspects of crisis leadership is communication with stakeholders. During a crisis, all of your stakeholders will be looking for as much information as they can get. When their value propositions have been threatened, it’s only natural to expect them to be desperately seeking any and all intelligence that might shed light and hope on their distressed assets. As crisis leaders, we know how important it is to share any information that becomes available with our stakeholders. We recognize that they are all anxiously awaiting any news that we have to share. So when there is some news to share, crisis leaders will typically find a way to share it. No rocket science there.
But what a crisis leaders communicate to shareholders when there is no news to share? The answer is not as obvious as it may seem. As you think about this question, let me take a moment to describe the reality of business today that actually has become a major influence on your answer. What ubiquitous tool have we had at our disposal to disseminate a great deal of information to a large or medium or small audience in a matter of minutes? Of course, we have our e-mail. We all recognize that e-mail can be an exceptional communication tool. But we also know that a typical e-mail box is overflowing with useless content or unwelcome requests for attention or demands of our time.
So much so in fact, that most people have simply stopped paying attention to what comes into their mailboxes. As business leaders, we become very sensitive to this e-mail problem, and many of us have begun to self-filter what we send to our stakeholders. Our thinking, reasonably so, is that by limiting the messages that we do send will somehow create an expectation from our stakeholders that I’ll only send something to you if it’s worth your time and that when I do send something, you should read it. Spoiler alert, think this way all you’d like, it’s not going to work.
As a general business rule today, under normal circumstances, if you aren’t absolutely certain that an e-mails we’re sending, you probably shouldn’t take the time to send it because the folks on the receiving end of your message probably aren’t going to read it. Having established that, let’s come back to the question of what we should share with stakeholders during a crisis when we aren’t confident that we have something new to share. When we are tempted to hold back a communication because we can’t be certain, it’s important enough to send. First of all, these are not normal circumstances. During a crisis, stakeholders are anxious, perhaps fearful, and they want information.
You’re a crisis leader and recognizing your stakeholders interests in what you have to say, you want to deliver reliable, meaningful information to them. So what do you do when there’s nothing new to share? When nothing much has changed from yesterday’s message, do you hold off until tomorrow for an update so as not to send something that might be viewed as a worthless update that lacks any substantive news? No, you keep your communications flowing. To help you overcome that urge to wait for big news to share, here’s something to keep in mind. When you’re leading a team through a crisis situation, no news is news, and here’s why. In a crisis, there are lots of moving pieces.
A great deal of activity is taking place and new information is becoming available all the time. As a member of the crisis management team, you’re seeing much of this information firsthand. You and the team are working through it, analyzing it, and determining how it contributes to your current understanding of the situation. In many, perhaps even most cases, you determine that the new information hasn’t really added that much to your previous understanding. So you decide that the little you’ve learned isn’t worth sharing. Why feel someone’s mailbox? You might ask yourself with something that doesn’t provide any new information. Why? Because all of your stakeholders are very interested in what you’ve learned.
They’re anxious about the threat to their value proposition, and they want to know what progress has been made or hasn’t been made to resolve things. They’d been watching all the activity and perhaps they’ve seen bits and pieces of news through other distribution channels. They just know that there is news to share even when there isn’t. When you don’t send an update in the midst to the heightened tension, you are thinking that you’re sparing your stakeholders from just another useless e-mail. Your stakeholders aren’t seeing it this way. They are certain that there is news to share. When you don’t provide it, they decide that you are keeping it from them. It’s just the way we’re wired.
The moral of the story is that crisis leaders should want to become the trusted source for information. To become the trusted source, you must establish that you and your team will communicate what you know when you know it. During a crisis, your stakeholders are going to assume that there is always news to share. To earn and maintain their trust, you need to share what you know at regular intervals, ideally on a program schedule. Then as scheduled, you should share what you know, whether you believe it to be newsworthy or not. Just remember, during a crisis, all news, even no news is news.
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High Stakes Leadership: Leading in Times of Crisis

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