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Predicting Stakeholder Reactions Can Help Us Craft Communication Plans

Predicting Stakeholder Reactions Can Help Us Craft Communication Plans
Taking the time to predict how stakeholders are likely to react during a crisis can be very helpful to our crisis planning efforts. If we have a sense of how a particular scenario is likely be perceived and processed by our stakeholders, we will gain insights in a number of ways. First, working through a number of crisis scenarios will give us a great sense of how those events are likely to impact our stakeholders and, therefore, should help us see why it’s worth making investments in preventive measures. Perhaps the most obvious example of this, is the justification for airline safety programs. Airlines invest in safety because, well, it’s the law. But the law doesn’t state how much or in which ways to invest.
Of course, safety is critically important to airlines. Not just because it is the law, or because it’s the right thing to do, it’s also prudent because of the different ways stakeholder groups will react to a safety crisis, and the actions they take as a result. Take a minute to think about why this logic does or doesn’t quite work for you. I believe that you’ll find some value in the thought exercise. Second, working through a number of crisis scenarios will illustrate the steps that can be taken to influence stakeholder reactions at various points in the model. We now know that stakeholder reactions begin with an expectation of commitment from an organization. What we referred to earlier as a psychological contract.
Can we imagine ways of providing a greater degree of clarity around expectations, or goods and services to be rendered? Taking time to educate stakeholders in an effort to clearly set expectations and, if they exist, limitations on your ability to meet those expectations, may be well worth your time. We also know that when our stakeholders experience a perceived violation of contract expectations, that they will judge our level of responsibility and the severity of the situation. Working through scenarios proactively, and creating ways to mitigate stakeholder judgment, will provide your organization with a ready set of tools to effectively engage stakeholders when emotions are running high.
Which leads me to one of the most useful collection of tools that a company can have at its disposal in times of a crisis. And that’s a set of communication plans. For certain types of crises, once we’ve used our model to predict likely stakeholder reactions, we can create a collection of stakeholder communications that can be prepared and set aside for use if and when they could be helpful. We’ve established the critical importance of stakeholder engagement throughout a crisis and, in this module, we’ve learned a mechanism that could help us predict how these stakeholders are likely to respond.
If we combine these two lessons, and amplify them by acknowledging that we will have very little time during a crisis to craft all the communications that we would want, then taking the time to pre-plan communication templates for different scenarios, should make perfect sense to us. Why do I use the term templates? The fact is that you won’t be able to predict the full set of details surrounding a future crisis. If you can, then go fix things now because you know an awful lot about a crisis that hasn’t happened yet. No, you won’t be able to predict all the details of a future crisis.
But, you can predict a few most probable types of crises, how these crises will likely be perceived by your stakeholders, and prepare a generic templatized collection of communications ready to be tailored to the specifics of your situation, and just minutes away from being ready to deliver. The organizations best prepared for crises and major disruptions, have a crisis communication binder or folder with general messages for many of their most likely crisis types, and for the majority of their primary stakeholders ready to go at a moment’s notice. This practice has proven immensely valuable on countless occasions for these organizations, and maybe one of the most useful tools you could ever have in your High-Stakes Leadership toolkit.
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High Stakes Leadership: Leading in Times of Crisis

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