Be prepared: How to manage a major tech catastrophe

All companies must contend with a crisis at some point in their lifetime. Just look at Facebook when they first implemented their news feed component, or the situation with GE, when they were caught selling weapons to the terrorist-promoting country of Iran. What GE was doing was particularly heinous. Not impressive, Immelt!

We have an idea now on how this crisis can take on many forms – an irate customer, a faulty product, or a critical error on the part of the employee. Unfortunately, too many companies in the United States are ill-equipped to deal with a situation like this due to the absence of a proper contingency plan; according to them, crisis communication plans are more of an option than a necessity.

This can badly damage the business. For a tech company especially, a communication plan is vital for handling a crisis of any scale, and below we take a look at some of the steps a CIO (chief information officer) must take to implement one.

Preparing for all possibilities

Managing Crisis

It could be that your tech company will never face any large-scale crisis. But you cannot leave anything up to chance. Thus, you should start building a communication plan by first conducting a “vulnerability audit.” Speak to all your employees, from the CTO (chief technology officer) to newly recruited developers – ask for their opinion about possible safety measures in case anything goes wrong.

Prepare a list based on their input, and assess how these scenarios might occur. Consider all kinds of possibilities irrespective of the situational details, and prepare talking points.

Springing into action

Build a plan based on the checklist format and have certain protocols in place so that your team understands which steps to follow. They should act fast and keep their wits about them, moving from one task to another with acumen, during what could be a highly emotional period.

As the CIO of a public company, your first task should be to get in touch with shareholders. Based on the magnitude and intensity of the crisis, the press might be on the scene in minutes, and before making any public statements, you must inform the people most affected by the crisis.

If it is an actual emergency, regulatory bodies and law enforcement must be contacted at once. Include your own employees and upper-level management in the response efforts.

Do not commit the mistake of sharing something with the media without first discussing it with your key stakeholders. Use this opportunity to make them see things from your perspective, and provide them with an idea of what to expect. Building a dynamic communication channel will provide you the chance to route the latest details to employees in real-time.

Decide upon the spokesperson in a time of crisis

Managing Crisis

In the event of a major crisis, assurances and explanations need to be provided to the press as well as the general public. The question is, who is going to speak about this? It cannot be handled by just about any random employee; it takes a person who has expertise and skill. Thus, it is important to choose a spokesperson wisely and clearly. The rest of the committee and board members and employees should assist the media by connecting them to the spokesperson for more details.

The spokesperson for a tech company needs to properly develop their technique for the interview by rehearsing a dynamic opening – one that establishes the company’s key messages, and then rehearsing the right way to connect, avoid, and block. It is the responsibility of the CIO to set up a video camera so that the spokesperson is able to practice in privacy. You can even hire a company that specializes in public speaking and interview training for additional support.

Responding to the crisis

The approach adopted by the spokesperson while speaking to the press must be well-planned and executed. For that reason, here are some do’s and don’ts:

Areas of focus

Messaging is key. Apart from the main points highlighting the situation, focus on what the company does well, incorporate the corporate beliefs, values, mission, and commitment into the speech. At the same time, make sure you are completely honest and have a few talking points regarding what the company expects to learn from the situation at hand.

What not to do

It’s always a bad idea to speculate about things. Instead, the best thing is to stick to the facts. If required, you should not hesitate to redirect a question, but make sure you do it respectfully and without offending any reporter.

Stay cool under pressure, and never react to any hearsay and rumors. Focus on the key message and restate the facts. Make it appear to outsiders that everything within the company is under control.

Another thing to avoid is the phrase “no comment.” It makes you look like you’re guilty and trying to hide something. If you are bound by corporate policy to not answer a particular question – perhaps something to do with private and confidential personnel details – make sure you let the inquirer know clearly.

Why handling a crisis the right way matters

A botched crisis response may have severe consequences for the company in the long run. It’s true that a corporate disaster can affect the company in a bad way, but the importance of healthy relations with the media, both in everyday communications and during the crisis period, prevents things from blowing out of proportion.

Of course, you’re free to tell the media nothing. You’re not compelled to divulge any details and so you can stay quiet on the matter. But if you think that this is going to make the problem go away, you are sorely mistaken. Maintaining silence breeds distrusts and causes the media to dig deeper into the goings-on in your firm. Moreover, positive media coverage also becomes scarce as a result.

In the event of a crisis, the media will think they lack a cooperative official source, and so they’ll approach unofficial sources to get the latest scoop on the crisis. And there’s no guarantee that these unofficial sources will present the facts in an accurate manner or deliver the right kind of corporate messaging.

One thing becomes clear in all this – the media must be taken care of and supplied with the kind of information that allows them to do their jobs properly. Present your tech company as a responsive, helpful, transparent, trusted, and solution-oriented entity. Crisis management is a tough call for any company, but having the goodwill of those around you can help you deal with this situation in a more calm and strategic fashion.

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