“Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”

More than 40 years ago, a much younger Elton John sang a song, musing about the difficulties of apologizing. He undoubtedly had no idea how a mere generation or so later, businesses would be wrestling with the aftermath of bad actions, decisions or outcomes that, in a way, are just as painful as a personal relationship gone badly.

Today, lightning-speed information flow and an infinitely transparent environment can take what once might have been a contained event and translate it into embarrassing, difficult and even potentially enterprise-ending crisis. Social media and blogs are littered with the real or perceived misbehaviors of large financial institutions, coffee shops, ride sharing providers and even the social media platforms, themselves.

How do you lead through an unthinkable situation that threatens the very being of your brand and reputation? Here are some crisis communications tips:

Anticipate: Take a hard, honest look at what your organization does, how it works, who it involves and the larger environment in which it operates. If there’s something in your organization you wouldn’t want to tell your family, fix it. Now.

Apologize:  Get the facts and identify those affected. Speak directly to the situation, prioritizing the message, first, to the people impacted and then about the property and reputations involved. The apology must be direct, honest and sincere. It must be corrective, addressing how such an event will be prevented or avoided in the future.

Correct: Take care of those affected. Repair any damaged facilities, putting them back in better order than before. Fixing the emotional damage to trust others have for your enterprise requires intentionality and focus. Know that you, your team and the entire organization will be under the microscope. Behave accordingly.

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