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Listen to the Interview for Product Managers and Innovators
The topic of this episode is crisis management — meaning a crisis that threatens the reputation of a brand or product. When a crisis happens that involves a product, the product manager is expected to help with the issues. Also, as you take on more leadership responsibilities, it becomes more likely, if a crisis occurs, that you’ll be part of the team helping to manage the problem. No organization wants to be in a crisis, but when it happens, people who know how to respond are highly valued.
To learn more about managing a crisis, I spoke with Jim Parham. Jim is the Chief Operating Officer at Hirons, an advertising and public relations company based in Indianapolis. He is also a lead Crisis Communication Manager and fondly known by customers and employees as the Professor, in part for his deep thinking as well for teaching part-time at Indiana University. He brings a background in journalism and senior leadership of large organizations, including serving as VP of Marketing.
I hope you are not involved in a crisis management situation, but when it happens, knowing what Jim shares will help you be proactive instead of reactive.
Summary of some concepts discussed
- [2:30] What is crisis management? First, a good example of a crisis is what has occurred with United Airlines lately and some high-profile incidents with customers on their airplanes. A crisis is short or long term damage to an organization. When such a crisis occurs that impacts the organization’s brand or product, a crisis manager works quickly to develop responses for internal employees, external customers, and media and journalist. It is also common to coordinate with the organization’s legal counsel. It comes down to handling the crisis as effectively as possible.
- [5:51] Why should product managers know about crisis management? When a crisis occurs, if it involves a product, there will be many questions for the product manager and others involved in developing the product. The product manager will be involved in the crisis management.
- [9:29] What do crisis managers do for an organization? It’s not about spinning the situation. You can’t always make lemonade out of lemons. It’s about explaining what happened and putting the pieces together in a responsible and factual manner. You have to deal with the responsible parties involved and communicate the facts appropriately.
- [11:38] What are the qualities of an effective crisis manager? You have to exercise independence and emotional neutrality. A crisis manager shows up to work with people who are having their worst day and need to sort it out and make sense of it. You must be a careful listener with the ability to accurately assess a situation that may be changing minute by minute. Written and verbal communications is a must because the crisis manager will be sending messages to employees, media, and others impacted by the crisis as well as conducting press conferences. You must also be a diplomat to deal with the various parties involved who are demanding information and answers. Another capability is knowing what to focus on and when – separating the wheat from the chaff. It is not uncommon to have the wrong information at first and you don’t want to share incorrect information. You also need to understand the current communication channels including the use of technologies and social media.
- [16:10] What qualities do a product manager need to help with a crisis? It’s the abilities to remain neutral and not be defensive about the situation. Information needs to be shared clearly and factually.
- [18:31] What are the keys to handling a crisis? In the past a crisis manager may have tried to control the information that is shared. That is no longer the case where videos of a crisis quickly become viral. Responding quickly is the first key to handling a crisis situation. The facts need to be assembled and assessed to know what is important and what is not. The roles of the people involved need to be understood, including who is talking with the press. Another key is accuracy. The information shared must be accurate. If you doubt the information, leave it out. Clear and consistent communication messages are also key. The information shared should be precise and packaged in ways that reporters and the public expect. A final key is credibility and this means finding the person who has credibility in the situation and preparing them to communicate clearly about the crisis and the organization involved.
“On that action/decision you are making/taking today, how will it read on the front page of the paper tomorrow?” – Jim Parham
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.