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Organizational Resilience Goal #3: Developing Stronger Relationships With Stakeholders After a Crisis

Organizational Resilience Goal #3: Developing Stronger Relationships With Stakeholders After a Crisis
The third stage of organizational resilience is adaptation. This should make intuitive sense to us as leaders. When we faced a crisis, what can we do to not let it happen again? What can we do to learn from the experience? To improve our practices and processes, to examine what we didn’t do, what we did poorly, and what we did well that led to the situation that played out. Winston Churchill famously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” His point was ultimately that when tensions are high and those around you recognize the need for action, for something to happen to produce a more promising path forward, then you have the best possible environment for change.
This is the opportunity we all have after a crisis. What can we do to leverage it? As our focus has been on building resilience through the strength of relationships with our stakeholders, how might we think of engaging stakeholders as we reflect on a crisis, learn from it, and create a stronger organization going forward. To do so effectively, there were a few things that we have to get right. Once the peak of the crisis is clearly behind you and your organization begins its recovery efforts, stakeholder engagement becomes very important to the future of the business. These stakeholders have been impacted to some degree by the crisis.
Their value proposition was threatened, their trust in your enterprise and the team leading it has been diminished, perhaps entirely, and they’re now forced to reconsider the value of their partnership with you. Looking back on what we learned about stakeholders and the importance of understanding their interest, once a crisis has passed, we must reengage these groups to restore their pre-crisis assessment of their value propositions to the extent that we can. We need to engage them in a way that rebuilds the trust capital that was lost or diminished during the critical sequence of events.
We must help each of these groups, perhaps even specific individuals within these groups find reasons to stick with us as we learned from the past to create a better future. Now as you listen to that, did it sound like I was describing the necessary steps to win back your customers? For many business leaders as they look to right the ship after having weathered the storm, they think first and foremost about their customers. It is this stakeholder group after all that most likely fuels the business’s revenue engine. But while it is in fact critical to engage customers as much as you can during and after a crisis, particularly if they were a group that was significantly impacted by the crisis.
It is just as important, sometimes even more so during the adaptation or post-crisis stage to engage all of your stakeholder groups. Why? Because more than likely all of them have to some degree been impacted by the event. They are all wondering what happened, what led to the issue, what damage was done, what changes will be made, and what are the answers to these questions mean to their value propositions going forward? Professor Berger, what do you mean when you suggest that we engage our stakeholders in ways that restore their trust in our enterprise? What options do we have?
Well, there are a number of different ways that you can engage stakeholders post-crisis to make your company more resilient going forward and here are a couple. The first is simply engaging them in dialogue. I’m using the term dialogue intentionally. Yes, your stakeholders want to hear from you. They want to know that you care for and empathize with them. But they also want to speak to you. Many members within these groups will want the chance to tell you how this whole experience has felt to them, about how it impacted them and perhaps most helpfully to you, how they think you can prevent a re-occurrence or make changes for the better going forward.
Find a way to set up a dialogue with your stakeholders, they can be exceptionally helpful. By drawing them in to be part of the solution, they may actually feel a sense of ownership in your future success. Another way to engage stakeholders beyond simply communicating is to formally invite them into the change process. I recall a great example of this from my time at JetBlue. At about the seven-year point of our company’s history, we found ourselves in a really ugly operational crisis as a result of a winter storm that passed through the New York area. Once we’d worked our way through it, we were faced with the challenge of addressing the many root causes that contributed to the crisis.
One way we chose to engage a key stakeholder group was to create a large cross-functional team of our employees, what we called crew members of JetBlue, to help us identify and propose solutions to the problems that led to the crisis. In the end, we pulled in over a 120 crew members from all parts and levels of our operation for several months to be part of this major project, a project we called IROP Integrity or Irregular Operations Integrity. These crew members would eventually identify the need to complete dozens of significant projects. The senior leadership team at JetBlue made sure they received the time and resources to complete all of them.
It was an incredible experience to be a part of, and JetBlue has been a much better company ever since on many levels. Perhaps most importantly and germane to our discussion here, our crew members felt as though their input was both welcome and necessary to help JetBlue adapt to its post-crisis way of doing business. These employees now felt a renewed sense of ownership and commitment to the company. Every member of the IROP Integrity team felt as though JetBlue could be more resilient in the face of potential future crisis because they had played a role in helping it learn from this one.
If you are looking for a way to win back the loyalty and commitment of your employees or any stakeholder group following a particularly challenging situation, a great way to do so is to include them in the solutioning process. You may just find that not only are your solutions better than they would have been if you had created them in a bit of a vacuum, but that your stakeholders will find them more compelling and more effective. As a welcome added bonus, your relationships with these stakeholders will never quite be the same in a very, very good way.

Organizational Resilience Goal #3: Developing Stronger Relationships With Stakeholders After a Crisis

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High Stakes Leadership: Leading in Times of Crisis

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