When Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo broke apart over the Mojave Desert last week, it represented a major crisis for Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson, who has spent years shepherding the project through development.
If you follow Branson’s Twitter feed, you know he’s been candid and quick in his responses over the past few days. While it remains to be seen whether the SpaceShipTwo project will move past this disaster and begin ferrying passengers into orbit, Branson’s response illustrates some key points of crisis management.
Transparency Is Key: While most companies (fortunately) will never deal with a life-or-death disaster, the worst thing any leader can do in the event of a crisis is keep customers in the dark about what’s going on. The longer the silence, the angrier people tend to get; and if the eventual corporate response is blurry or dishonest, people will begin to shift their allegiances to a rival.
Curb the Accusations: A crisis is no time for finger-pointing: Even if there’s fighting going on behind the scenes, it’s imperative that the company present a unified front to the public.
Have a Plan: Many large companies spend years developing multiple plans for multiple types of crises. Smaller firms often don’t, and so they flail when disaster strikes. (The next time your favorite app accidentally leaks user data into the open, see whether the app’s founders panic, or whether they provide an assured response—if the latter, chances are good they’re industry veterans.) Even if your company doesn’t have the resources to create multiple contingencies, make sure everybody has at least some idea of what to do when something bad happens.
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