London police are still scrambling to maintain order in the face of the largest outbreak of violent, public protests in more than a decade. Masked looters, burned businesses, smashed windows and dismantled cars were only small elements of the civil unrest realized during the last 48 hours – the tension continues to rapidly grow and spread into other cities surrounding London.
Some Londoners have said that most of the violence is from economically-challenged areas that have dealt with a long history of unemployment and police tension, leading some to believe the riots were ultimately caused by frustrations resulting from the economic slowdown; others have blamed the popularity of teenage gangs. In either case, the riots were clearly triggered by the growing emotion and distrust citizens have toward their police department.
The Wall Street Journal reported the riots began in Tottenham, North London on Saturday when residents were protesting the death of a 29-year-old resident who was shot and killed by a police unit who investigates gun crime in minority communities. One major conclusion we can draw is that the ongoing communication between the police and the community is grossly ineffective. In fact, one of the most common sources of community crisis is strained public and police relations. The art of communication is paramount in today’s digital world; however, the ability to communicate during a crisis is a skill unto itself. The following represents just a few top-line communication tips when managing a public crisis:
Tell the truth and tell it yourself, first.
The truth is your most important asset. Capital Business Magazine says, “One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is to withhold the truth and avoid accountability to their own people. Even when there is no official communication, the need for information does not go away. Something will fill the vacuum.” At the Fallston Group, our mantra is “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will. And, if someone else tells your story, it certainly won’t be the story you want told,” — and, we stand by it!
Timeliness is key. The first 24 hours (sometimes 24 minutes!) of a crisis is when people are turning to one another and leaders for answers. Be the one to answer those questions–it maximizes your control of the situation and your ability to provide perspective, direction and relief to those affected.
During crisis, people look to leadership for reassurance. It is your golden opportunity to demonstrate your leadership skills–act with empathy and reason, not raw, reckless emotion.
Respond through the appropriate channels.
Know where your stakeholders get the majority of their information and communicate with them on their terms. Social media is your friend! It can be your most effective tool in dealing quickly and directly with the public. Utilize all social media avenues available to you.
Embrace accountability, when and if appropriate.
Admitting mistakes is an admirable quality in a leader; it is also a valuable asset in business. Be sure to “make it right” to those negatively impacted. Pledge to fix the problem while keep your promise to do so. Integrity is not negotiable. Crisis, if not properly managed, costs time, money, customers and careers!