When things go wrong ... communicate

When things go wrong the natural tendency for human beings tends to be to withdraw and have less contact with others while you sort out the problem.

In my experience that withdrawal only makes things worse – especially for companies and organisations.

Let’s paint a picture here.  You’ve launched a project and engaged with many stakeholders in the affected community.  It becomes evident that the project has hit major problems, there are going to be delays and there is going to be a cost impact.  Even worse there are critics of the project with vested interests who will see this as an opportunity to make political capital – and you can almost hear them sharpening their knives.

Fear becomes the driving emotion and the company puts up the shutters.  Outside your stakeholders start to worry.  There are rumours but no information.  The voids start to be filled, people talk.  Almost by the day the trust you built with your stakeholders is ebbing away…and by the time you do emerge to speak to them, the relationship is significantly, perhaps even fatally, damaged.

There is another way.  Resist the temptation to withdraw. Talk to your stakeholders.  Tell them what’s going on.  Let them know there are problems, the extent of which you might still be working out.  Yes, they’ll be worried but they’ll also be reassured.  You respect the relationship with them enough to let them know what’s going on.  Keep them updated.  They become a partner rather than a problem.  As you work through the issues, deal with the consequences; the relationship is more than likely going to be enhanced.  The crisis will come and go but the strengthened relationship will last a lifetime.  Even better, next time trouble strikes (as it inevitably will) there will be a bedrock of trust that lowers the risk, and makes a return on the most needed capital in the world right now – confidence.