Survive, then thrive: Four ways to emerge stronger from a corporate crisis

Crisis comes in all shapes, sizes, and severity levels. From data breaches to product recalls, handling challenges is an inevitable part of leading a business. When your company has been thrown into chaos, how can you leverage the experience to make sustained transformation?

Crisis comes in all shapes, sizes, and severity levels. From data breaches to product recalls, handling challenges is an inevitable part of leading a business. When your company has been thrown into chaos, how can you leverage the experience to make sustained transformation? The Brightline Initiative and Quartz Insights surveyed more than 1,200 senior global executives to learn how their organizations survived a crisis—and ultimately grew from it.

The resulting report, “Learning from Crisis Mode,” outlines their insights. Crisis Mode—in which an organization shifts priorities, resources, and responsibilities to avoid disaster—is a period of volatility. But it can also be one of opportunity. Three out of four survey participants said they felt motivated to rally together in times of company crisis. These key lessons can help an organization weather a crisis and make a lasting strategic change.

Prioritize internal communication

In times of upheaval, clear communication is crucial. The research shows this: 91% of respondents reported that communication from senior leadership is “critical to aligning the organization behind a shared vision.” Another 89% noted that crisis resolution strategies are more successful when explained comprehensively to the entire organization.

An example of this insight in action: Between 2013 and 2015, the retail giant Target experienced a massive data breach, the departure of its CEO, and high-profile layoffs—events that took a toll on employee morale. Some workers reportedly felt they were hearing more from media coverage than they were from corporate communications.

To increase transparency, Target’s executive team launched a daily newsletter called “Briefly.” The internal email, which takes less than five minutes to read, outlines company goals and happenings in a relatable voice.

"Briefly is meant to be an honest conversation we have every day with our team,” said Target’s former SVP of communications Dustee Jenkins in an interview with PR Week. “[It] works because we have permission to talk about topics that don’t show Target in the best light … We have committed to this notion of transparency and authenticity."

More than a year after Briefly’s introduction, readership was around 80%, and a third-party audit gave the newsletter high marks for clarity, authenticity, engagement, and trust.

Empower key employees

The Brightline Initiative’s report found that times of crisis can reveal leaders hidden within organizational ranks. Nearly three-quarters of respondents supported the idea that Crisis Mode can enable under-the-radar employees to tap into previously unrecognized strengths. For instance, when a crisis calls for quick, thorough analysis of an issue, critical thinkers have a chance to step up to the plate and develop their leadership skills.

What’s more, 74% of respondents reported that cross-functional teams set up to tackle problems continued meeting even after their companies returned to everyday operation. A sense of camaraderie often persisted once the crisis had passed.

Speed up decision-making and processes

When responding to crisis, speed counts. As does thoughtful consideration of processes. Structural changes made during this period tend to stick around: 79% of respondents agreed that organizational changes remained in place long-term.

In 2016, Samsung faced the type of product mishap that keeps business executives up at night. Its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones began exploding due to a battery malfunction, and ,in September 2016, the executive team issued a recall and set up triage efforts to find the problem’s source. In total, 700 researchers and engineers tested 200,000 phones and more than 30,000 batteries.

“We basically lived in a war room, a conference room for those 120 days,” Tim Baxter, Samsung North America’s chief executive, told the Washington Post. “We learned more about working as a team in that time—almost operating as a startup—than I’d ever experienced.”

Through recall efforts, Samsung collected 99% of all Note 7 phones sold in the US. Battery explosions subsided—a report notes that today, Samsung likely has the safest phones on the market. Samsung has also completely overhauled its quality-assurance program. These efforts have produced results. In 2017, just one year after the explosions, the company saw a 9% increase in brand valuation and sales of their Galaxy S8 and S8+ phones led to $26 billion in revenue for their mobile unit.

Prioritize strategic initiatives

A crucial step in the aftermath of a crisis is conscious re-prioritization: 91% of respondents reported making changes to their prioritization of strategic initiatives; another 78% agreed that strategy implementation capabilities improved after the event.

A prompt, thorough evaluation of strategic priorities can clarify company values. In the survey, 71% of respondents agreed with this sentiment, noting that a clearer understanding of the organization’s priorities renewed its vision and sense of direction.

Perhaps the final hard-hitting finding from the report cements the idea that crisis can bring about positive organizational change: 80% of respondents reported that, having weathered a crisis, their company emerged stronger than it was before it went into Crisis Mode.

A high-profile incident doesn’t necessarily spell disaster. In fact, it can be an impetus for positive evolution. Learn more about how you can leverage crisis to create lasting, strategic change by reading and sharing the Brightline Initiative “Learning from Crisis Mode” report.

This piece was created on behalf of the Brightline Initiative by Quartz Creative and not by the Quartz editorial staff.

Published on 22 April 2019, by Brightline Initiative, Quartz Creative