In times of crisis, it is just as important to remember those committed to serving your organization as it is those who are impacted by your work. Providing information to stakeholders, such as employees, staff, volunteers, donors and others can help them protect themselves physically, such as in a case of spread of disease. Communicating corrective/ preventative measures and expressing sympathy towards victims helps stakeholders cope physiologically during crisis (ASB, 2009). Also direct communication with internal stakeholders from company leadership provides clarity and prevents the spread of fear, innuendo and misinformation (Garcia, 2008).
For examples, let’s consider the crises Penn State and Exeter Hospital underwent and its impact on internal stakeholders. I will also share what I believe my reaction may have been as a student at Penn State and how I would approach communicating to internal stakeholders as senior management at Exeter Hospital.
In 2012 Jerry Sandusky, who had been Penn State’s football coach for 30 years was sentenced to 30-60 years in prison for molesting 10 boys he’d met through his Second Mile children’s charity (Pickle, 2015). Penn State had no crisis communication team and their response was total silence as the news of Sandusky’s arrest and charges went worldwide instantly (Scott, 2012).
How and what an organization communicates during a crisis has a significant effect on the outcomes of the crisis (Coombs, 2012). And a failure to respond, allows others to tell people how to think about the issue (frame) and determine how the crisis will be perceived (Coombs, 2012).
Impact on Internal Stakeholders
Loss of staff and ongoing legal proceedings. One of the outcomes of this crisis was that Penn States athletic director (Thamel, 2012), president and longstanding head coach, Joe Paterno were fired. Presently two other administrating are awaiting trial on charges related to failing to report abuse (Pickle, 2015).
Financial Loss. Although the school received an increase in donor dollars, there was a 30% drop in applications to its law school and endured a $60 million fine by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) (Pickel, 2015 ).
Tarnished name and image. One point that crisis communications expert Melissa Agnes point out is, because Penn State did not speak up and separate the University from Sandusky and other administrators this crisis was framed as “The Penn State Crisis,”(Agnes, 2012), tarnishing the image of the university. Will Penn State be able to shake the perception created during this crisis?
How would I have responded?
I would have had many questions like “Why doesn’t the university say anything?” I’d think the reason would be because they are trying to protect the successful athletic program. I’d also think their silence is insensitive to the victims and their families. Most likely, I wouldn’t voice my ideas because administrators were fired and Sandusky was sent to jail. But it would definitely cause me to wonder about the integrity of the school and if I should transfer.
Exeter hospital faced a Hepatitis C breakout that was allegedly caused by an employee, effecting 32 patients in 2012. It was also found that this employee had been spreading disease over time at several other hospitals in the region (Sandborn, 2012).
In my opinion Exeter Hospital did an excellent job of crisis management and communication. Here’s what they did well.
- Prevented further harm to staff and patients by closing down the lab where the outbreak originated and communicated this step to the public.
- Appointed and effective spokesperson who expressed concern and sympathy for the victims.
- Took control of framing the crisis by separating the organization from the alleged criminal by stating:
We strongly believe our hospital’s long-standing history of providing exceptional care to tens of thousands of people each year cannot be undone or redefined by the criminal acts of one individual (Sanborn, 2012, para 14).
- Provided the public with plans to implement further preventative measures, including proposing and supporting policy changes.
In addition to the measures taken by Exeter Hospital, as is suggested by (Garcia, 2008), as senior management I would do the following:
- Communicate with employees immediately.
- Discuss the possible impact the crisis can have on the company, especially regarding how jobs will be effected.
- Conduct face-to-face small group meeting to find out what this crisis means to employees and what matters to them so that their concerns can be addressed.
As an employee, if I were given the opportunity to express my ideas to management during time of crisis, my morale would get a boost- i’d feel positive about the company I work for and feel empowered because my concerns matter.
To sum it all up:
It is critical during a crisis to properly communicate with the external stakeholders- customers, clients and the like. And it is equally important that an organization take care of those (internal stakeholders) that work hard to take care of them. Doing so will prevent any potential physical harm and help them cope physiologically during a crisis. Remembering internal stakeholders will also provide clarity, give employees an opportunity to express their concerns and help prevent the spread of fear misinformation and innuendos and create a better crisis outcome.
Aarhus School of Business [ASB] (2009, October 5) Situational crisis communication Theory – Timothy Coombs. [Video] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zctIlJUeoA
Agnes, M. (2012, June 25)5 lessons from Penn State’s social media crisis communications fail [Web Log] Retrieved from http://melissaagnes.com/5-lessons-from-penn-states-social-media-crisis-communications-fail/
Coombs.T. W., Hollady, S. J (2012) The handbook of crisis communication. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Malden, MA
Garcia, T. (2008, Nov 03). Internal comms is key amid financial crisis. PRweek, 11, 6. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/232019918?accountid=3783
Pickle, J (2015, July 23) Penn State football sanctioned by NCAA over Sandusky: Then and now Pennlive.com. Retrieved from http://www.pennlive.com/sports/index.ssf/2015/07/penn_state_football_sanctioned.html#incart_river_index
Sanborn, A (2012, December 28) Hepatitis C crisis: Exeter’s top story of 2012. Seacoastonline.com. Retrieved from http://www.seacoastonline.com/article/20121228/NEWS/212280327
Scott, M. D (2012, June 23) Penn State University: Poor crisis management and social media skills. Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-meerman-scott/penn-state-poor-crisis-management_b_1620763.html
Thamel, P (2012, June 22) Shaken by Sandusky Scandal, a changed Penn State is moving. Nytimes.com. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/23/sports/ncaafootball/shaken-by-sandusky-scandal-a-changed-penn-state-moves-on.html?_r=3&smid=tw-nytimes