Crisis management: 7 crisis facts from the Germanwings crash

Over the past weeks a number of crisis communications experts have offered their views on Lufthansa’s handling of the Germanwings crash on March 24th which claimed the lives of 150 passengers and crew in the French Alps. Many have praised Lufthansa and its CEO Carsten Spohr, others have been more critical. Here are 7 key facts about crisis management and crisis communications the Germanwings crash highlighted. Tweet This


1. Crisis management is not crisis communications

A crisis is managed through a set of carefully planned activities in support of those who have been affected by the company’s actions. A crisis is managed by “acting” not by “speaking”. But in a crisis companies need to effectively communicate their actions.

Managing a crisis means knowing exactly which actions to take, taking them responsibly and supporting them through communications.


2. Speed changes the rules of the game (again)

It took more or less 72 hours for Brice Robin, the chief Marseille prosecutor handling the investigation of the crash to state that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz wanted “to destroy the aircraft”. It took an additional 24 hours for German investigators to unveil the co-pilot’s health related problems and medical history. In comparison it usually takes ICAO Member State airline crash and accident investigation teams up to one year to publish a final report. This radical change in speed is dictated by a number of factors: 1) the need to know expressed by those affected 2) the thirst to know expressed by public opinion, 3) extreme competition among media outlets, 4) the increased “mediatisation” of the judicial. Companies, and not only airlines, need to recognize and adapt to this new environment.

In today’s world, when you think speed you should not only think social media.


3. Credibility

IATA guidelines on managing airline crashes are explicit: “One of the key objectives for any organization in a crisis must be to establish – and maintain – credibility”. According to IATA there should be no “credibility gap” between words and actions.

In a crisis you must work to preserve your biggest asset: your credibility. Tweet This


4. Sustainable communications

To safeguard credibility, companies need to quickly develop communication strategies that are “sustainable” over the full unfolding of the crisis. A very challenging activity in the face of lack of time and information. As companies venture into unknown territory, statements – especially early on – must only acknowledge known facts. Companies must resist the temptation of making statements that can be disproven over time.

If you do not develop a sustainable communication strategy you will not be able to weather the storm.


 5. The “under siege” syndrome

The psychological pressure that builds during a crisis can reach unbearable levels adding additional stress to an organization that is often already in a state of choc and disbelief. This leads to an “under siege” psychological condition, a knee jerk reaction to fight back in the mist of outside scrutiny and pressure. This hampers the organization’s ability to develop sustainable communication strategies thus placing corporate reputations at severe risk.

Spend time understanding the psychological effects of a crisis on your team before you actually face one. Tweet This


6. Corporate culture

Response to a crisis is not only affected by the level of preparedness but also by corporate culture. Reactions by Malaysian Airlines, Air Asia and Germanwings to air crashes clearly highlight this. Company values and culture, the organization’s opinion of itself as well as the culture of the country of origin significantly affect how organizations respond to crisis.

Culture affects how you respond, use crisis preparedness to review your corporate culture.


7. CEO personality

CEO personality and management style also play a crucial role in effective crisis management and crisis communications. Compare for example how Carsten Spohr, Lufthansa; Tony Fernandes, AirAsiaAhmad Jauhari Yahya, Malaysian Airlines responded to their respective airline crisis. According to an interesting study by Oxford Metrica titled “Protecting Value in the Face of Mass Fatality Events” cited in this Quartz article, CEOs play a crucial role in protecting the value of the company and recovery depends to a larger extent on how the crisis is handled by the CEO and management team.“Beyond the obvious moral rationale for good behaviour by management, it is clear that the markets respond positively to firms which demonstrate essential human qualities; sensitivity, compassion, honesty and courage. The managerial awareness of what is required, and the courage to act accordingly, sends a strong signal of skill to investors.”

Regardless how well prepared you are for crisis, much rests in the hands of your CEO. Regardless how well prepared you are, much rests in the hands of your CEOTweet This

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