“A rat doesn’t care who you are or how nice your house is – if he wants to get in, he’s gonna get in,” my new friend, Mike, said to me the other day.
Mike was being literal, not figurative.
Mike gets rats – and squirrels and raccoons and who knows what else – out of people’s houses for a living. He’s my new friend because that’s the service he expertly provided me (and the fact that I saw him bright and early almost every day for two weeks as he blocked potential entryways, set and checked traps, climbed around on my roof and in my crawlspace and, finally, completed the job). His quote above was preceded by a short list of local bigwigs he’s done the same for over the years, in addition to the regular Janes and Joes like me.
“That’s probably a great metaphor for something, Mike,” I replied. He looked at me with an “… if you say so…” expression, handed me my receipt and rode off into the sunset to the next job. (EDITOR’S NOTE: It was mid-morning, not sunset).
There is a great metaphor, and here we are: no matter how smoothly your operations are running, how prepared your personnel are to act and how great your reputation with current and potential stakeholders, crisis can infiltrate your “house” and cause severe damage if not mitigated quickly and effectively.
Aside from providing me the metaphor, Mike reminded me that:
- Reputation gets your foot in the credibility door; performance gets you the rest of the way in with your stakeholders. Mike came recommended to me, and I had confidence in him immediately because of that. He maintained his built-in trust and credibility by exhibiting caring, expertise and dedication.
- Don’t be afraid to get dirty. Mike literally did this; you might have to literally do this, too, whether it’s out in the field working with media or going into the “hot zone” (with appropriate certification and PPE, of course). “Getting dirty” could also mean completing tasks in a joint environment that you thought you’d “graduated” from earlier in your career.
- If you make promises, keep them. Mike showed up that first day, did a bunch of work, then said (for the first of several times), “I’ll be back tomorrow morning to check this out.” He’s a busy guy and could’ve blown me off, but he kept his word (again and again). If you make a promise to the media or a stakeholder during a critical incident, KEEP THAT PROMISE! If you’re not 100 percent sure that you’ll be able to do so, then don’t make it in the first place.
- Be flexible and willing enough to hear-out suggestions from other people when you’re stumped or when there’s a better way to get things done, even if you’re the subject matter expert and they aren’t. One of Mike’s traps hit pay dirt a few days into the job (gross but gratifying at the same time). He said he’d leave a few more out and be back to check them “just in case” The next morning I was awoken by the sound of “something else” in the attic (gross and not gratifying at the same time). Puzzled, I searched for and found another possible entryway for critters into the house, in the time before Mike’s next visit. He was dubious when I passed the info during his next visit, but got up on a ladder (that was way to tall for me to climb, without going into cardiac arrest) checked it out, came back down and said, “You’re right. I have a plan.” When you respond to mitigate crisis with others, checking your ego at the door is a Top 10 key to success.
- Always get the right person for the job. Mike’s the expert in the critter wrangling field, not me – that’s why we spent so much quality time together for a fortnight. Can’t tell you how many crisis communication plans I’ve seen put together (and used! *teeth gritting emoji*) by non-communication pros. Someone in another profession might be able to do the job, but testing that possibility whilst in crisis mode is beyond sketchy and could exacerbate your problems. Actually, it has: I have sea stories ….
- Time is a vital commodity during crisis – make the most of it. I wrote above that Mike and I spent quality time together. That’s true, but he didn’t waste my time and I didn’t waste his. I literally could not keep up with the guy as he went up, down, around and under Chez Brewer. Busy guy, moved quickly and efficiently while maintaining effectiveness. If you’ve responded to a large-scale or complex incident, you already know that there’s not enough time in the day to get everything done – be systematic and decisive in your work from the start, and that will help.
- You’re not done until the job’s done. Have a clear picture of what “mission complete” will look like and explain it to your stakeholders – and tell them you’re in it until that point. This conversation almost always requires input from those stakeholders to reach consensus on the mission complete definition. I knew exactly what to expect from Mike after talking to him on Day 1, and he followed-through and didn’t hand me a bill until we were both satisfied that the job was done.
- Manage expectations with stakeholders about potential similar crises in the future, and what the plan of action will be. People will want to know what you’ll do better or differently the next go-round, or about possible future issues related to the crisis you’ve just mitigated. You can avoid speculating by simply pointing out contingencies your organization are considering and what your plan is to respond to each. Mike admitted that one entryway repair he made at the end of the job wasn’t optimal, but it was the best he could do considering the location, etc. He told me he couldn’t guarantee it, but it should work out – keep an eye on it before immediately rushing to hire an army of contractors to re-build my house into an impenetrable fortress.
Image from the British Library collection of rights-free images on Flickr. Image taken from, “The Kitchen Maid; or, Someone We Know Very Well,” … with illustrations by J.B. Partridge. Original: https://goo.gl/wncQvr