Two rural equipment manufacturers, Ariens and Excel Industries, recently faced crises that put the companies — and their leaders — in the national spotlight. Ariens faced scrutiny for an employer/employee rights issue and Excel faced the tragedy of a mass shooting at its facility by an employee.
Dan Ariens, CEO of Ariens, and Paul Mullet, CEO of Excel Industries, are leading their companies with integrity and offering models for how dealers can lead their companies through crises.
That leadership begins before the crisis hits, says Randy Myers, public relations director at Osborn Barr, an agriculture-focused marketing agency. “Crisis situations can be experienced by companies big and small, so every dealer, regardless of size, should have a written plan in place to deal with the potential for a crisis incident, rather than scrambling once it happens.”
Waiting for the crisis to just “die down” is not an option. How a dealership reacts and responds can have a negative or positive impact on its reputation. Myers says that by developing a crisis plan, you have a better chance of making it through the event — and maybe even making your company stronger for it.
The first step in developing a plan is to anticipate the kinds of crises you might experience, Myers says. For instance, they could include employee actions, equipment liability issues, natural disasters, financial mismanagement and more. Next, name your key stakeholders, which should at least include your employees, financial partners, manufacturers and local and trade media.
Those scenarios will help you select who should be part of your crisis response team, which will likely include you as the owner or manager, and depending on the type of crisis, sales, parts and service managers, human resources manager and your finance lead.
The team should then work together to develop protocols, Myers says. For instance, you’ll want to establish a “command center,” processes for assessing the situation and plans for communicating with stakeholders. You’ll also want to name who will take the lead for communicating with the media, if that becomes necessary.
Myers shares these additional communication guidelines:
- Provide information as soon as possible to your key stakeholders. If you don’t, harmful rumors could start.
- Never speculate. Provide facts as you know them and give later updates as information becomes available.
- If police or fire officials become involved, let them provide additional comments about the situation.
Communicate to Reassure
Prompt and honest communication — without sharing confidential or proprietary information or letting emotions take over — can go a long way toward helping others feel reassured. That doesn’t mean you should avoid showing emotion. Genuine concern for your employees, for instance, can demonstrate that you are being truthful and working to resolve the situation. And, the importance of cooperating with law enforcement goes unsaid. They will most likely become a critical ally to resolution.
Once your plan is underway, set up practice sessions to see where you might need to refine procedures or add others to the response team. And, once you’ve handled the crisis, set aside time with your team to evaluate what you did wrong and did right.
This may all sound theoretical and not something you want to take on during the busy spring season. However, a crisis doesn’t wait for a more convenient time. Taking crisis planning steps now could reduce the chance or severity of a crisis by exposing your vulnerabilities.