The majority of business crisis management plans fail to account for events that disrupt the whole country.
When a monarch who has reigned for most of our lives dies, it throws our plans into disarray.
Most people this week have had difficult decisions to make about their personal time and their business.
So what can we learn from how people have adapted this week – and communicated with their staff and their customers?
I’m confident most of us in the UK will forever remember where we were on September 8th 2022 when the news came through.
I had just spoken at a conference in Birmingham.
I was now with the conference organiser, who was new to her role leading the company.
It was becoming clear that news of the monarch’s death was on the horizon. The timing, however, was uncertain.
So I offered to write announcements for several scenarios.
This is when you have to put emotions aside and be prepared to show leadership.
So the first announcement would be in the event of the Queen dying during a small event that evening.
The next would be to open the conference in front of almost 1,300 people the next morning in the event of the news breaking overnight.
So here were the decisions we had to make:
Let’s explore these in turn.
We would learn in the following days that there was confusion even at the highest levels of society.
Top-level football was cancelled but an England cricket test match continued on the Saturday.
We decided that our conference and its smaller events would go ahead.
But we would soften the tone and pay respect to unfolding events.
Sadly, as it turned out, we had to inform people at our evening event that the Queen had died.
We did so only after it was announced by the BBC, arguably the most trusted news source in the world.
Our announcement drew gasps followed by tears from the audience.
We announced a two-minute silence and then allowed the event to proceed in a more sombre manner.
We’d anticipated that many would be upset and some would want to leave.
But we also expected that most would want to stay as they’d travelled to attend the event.
And that’s exactly what happened.
The announcer returned to our room, very emotional about what he’d had to do.
Any of us who have had to break news to relatives of the death of a family member will know that feeling.
This was a crucial question in writing what to say to open the full conference the following morning.
The moral authority in the conference going ahead was that people had spent time, money and made complicated arrangements to attend.
So we explained that in our announcement about the Queen, which opened the conference.
But in allowing the conference to go ahead, we had to ensure that we set the right tone.
The conference organiser and general manager of the company was brilliant in speaking slowly, clearly and with great respect in her opening remarks.
She then called for two minutes of applause as we felt this more appropriate for the largely young audience.
She then took her tone “up through the gears”, allowing excitement to build only when appropriate.
I named our WhatsApp group that discussed decisions through the day “Appropriate Tone” as a reminder of our key objective.
The answer to this came directly to the conference organiser.
She was inundated with grateful messages after the event.
People thanked her for continuing with the conference but showing great leadership in setting the right tone.
This is a period in our history when our businesses and population are under great strain financially.
We need to keep calm and carry on to avoid further damage.
Just look at how Centre Parcs announced that they would close all their sites for Monday’s state funeral, which would have forced all guests to leave.
But that was followed by a U-turn after a backlash on social media.
They had misjudged the moral authority.
Putting too low a value to the cost and inconvenience to guests over respect being paid to the Queen.
Their reputation was therefore damaged.
It’s also been clear to me that some people in other organisations which have asked for my view on how to handle Monday’s funeral have put their personal views ahead of the reaction of their audience.
Our conference was a huge success despite a huge and deeply moving setback.
It was only possible because we had a plan.
A plan for several eventualities, but a plan that was clear and easy to follow.
All of us need to plan for the unexpected for the sake of business continuity.
At Pink Elephant Communications, it’s what we’ve been helping companies do since 1989.
Find out more about our crisis management courses here.
Bill McFarlan is Executive Chairman of Pink Elephant Communications.
You can read more about him here.
Featured image in business crisis management blog by Roméo from Pexels.
Other images in business crisis management blog by the BBC, Craige McGonigle from Pexels and Pink Elephant Communications.
Business crisis management blog edited by Colin Stone.
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