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A Beautiful Example of Crisis Communications: The Australian Army

25 Jun

australian-army-crisis-responseYesterday, we looked at what I may end up calling the biggest crisis communications fail of 2013!

Today, I would like to analyze one of the best crisis communications that I’ve seen this year: that of the Australian Army.

The below video is a message from the Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO. General Morrison released this video as his official response to allegations and investigations into unacceptable behaviour by army members.

Within his official response, General Morrison:

  • Is dressed appropriately in uniform, which makes a powerful statement in and of itself. You immediately know that this is an official video and you take him seriously.
  • He addresses the situation. He clearly states that he cannot release all information as its an ongoing investigation, but he does not hide behind excuses or brevity. He is clear, transparent and informative.
  • He displays authority and conviction with every word.
  • As the viewer, you instantly feel confident that he and the army are taking these allegations seriously and that this type of behaviour is not to be accepted and will come with serious consequences.
  • After watching this video, you walk away knowing that the crisis is being taken seriously and your trust within this organization is not lost, which is extremely important. In fact, you feel connected closer to the organization, its values and its commitment to its soldiers and the Australian people.
  • General Morrison supports the fight against bullying and mis-conduct (an issue that has long cast a grey cloud above many military units) and he empowers others to help and support him in this fight.
  • He’s firm. He’s serious. He shows respect and appreciation towards his soldiers and he means business!

This is a really powerful message by the Australian Army to its soldiers and citizens that exudes confidence, authority, reassurance and sincerity. The depth of this message would not have come across so strongly in a written statement, which shows the opportunities and benefits of publishing an official response to a crisis as a video – rather than the common written statement – with the right spokesperson and the right message.

Important things to consider for your own company’s crisis communications plan: When would a video response strategy be most appropriate and beneficial to your company or organization, rather then a written one? Which members of your team would make the most compelling spokesperson, in which types of situations, and have they been trained?

Jane Jordan-Meier, founder of The Media Skills Academy, often talks about the head and the heart in a crisis and how both need to come together. This video response is a beautiful example of both the head and the heart working together in this crisis. Have a look for yourself:

The Australian Army’s official crisis response

A powerful message from a soldier within the U.S. army

kristin-salingAfter seeing General Morrison’s video response, I reached out to my friend and colleague, Kristin Saling who has been commissioned in the U.S. army as an army engineer for the past 12 years. I reached out to Kristin because I was very interested in hearing her thoughts and feelings towards General Morrison’s official statement. What I received was an extremely powerful email that I am proud to share with you here today:

“[…] In the Army, I feel like I have many more options for dealing with harassment than I do on the outside world. However, I’m a senior officer. I have Soldiers and junior officers working for me who don’t have my rank or my forceful personality, and the more I serve, the more resolute I’ve become in ensuring that they don’t have to serve in an uncomfortable environment, that they don’t get forced into a situation where they have to deal with harassment or assault, that it becomes intolerable in the workplace. I almost applauded when General Morrison said, “The standard you walk by is the standard you uphold.” It’s the truth. We can’t tolerate any infractions that lead to workplace harassment or violence, or else we might as well be condoning the behavior.

I’m also glad he said, “If this doesn’t suit you, get out.” I’ve seen a culture of entitlement grow within our society, and it’s there in the military as well. It’s an honor and a privilege to serve, not a right. There is no place in the Army for those who create a hostile work environment, and they had better go find somewhere else to work if they have to live in a way that creates one. If our leadership would take the same hard line stance about this, it would be much easier to enforce punishment, separation, and dishonorable discharges for those who can’t play by the rules. In a high pressure environment, in combat, there’s more than enough hostility to go around. We have to stand together against it, not create it amongst ourselves. We’re useless if we’re fighting each other.

I don’t want to hear any more of our leaders talk about how they’re making more reporting available, more response teams available, more help available to victims. How about we prevent the crime from happening in the first place instead? How about we make the behavior so unacceptable and the punishment so intolerable that the crimes stop happening in the first place? We need to stop making excuses for this behavior and offering help to the victims of it, and work toward stopping it altogether.

We need our leaders, both in the military and in society in general, to take General Morrison’s stance on harassment and assault. If you can’t function in a mixed society, there should be no excuses made for you, there should be no leniency granted to you, there should be no slack granted to you. You should be told to fix yourself or go find somewhere else to work. […]”

It goes to show the power that a strong and sincere crisis communication can have on your stakeholders, your world. I hope that from this you will take a very important lesson from both General Morrison and Kristin and realize the importance and power that comes from strong and well executed communications. I’d say that strong communications is one thing, but actions speak louder than words. But strong communications and strong values go hand-in-hand with actions. The best of the best is the best of both worlds working together.

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4 Responses to “A Beautiful Example of Crisis Communications: The Australian Army”

  1. andreas andreou July 5, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

    Hi Melissa,
    my opinion in this case is general,because I believe it depends from the reputation of the army.As you know actions is better than words,so we must except the investigations.Maybe chief seem decisive but that didn't say something to me.I saw and I hear many times the same words.Sure is one step good and correct to minimize the case but in my opinion is the general opinion of people about past cases and about the reputation of the army until now who count.
    Thanks Andreas.

    • Melissa Agnes July 6, 2013 at 10:16 am #

      You're right that actions speak louder than words, Andreas, but what General Morrison is doing here is addressing the necessary actions that are and plan to be taken. Of course he and the entire army will have to follow through, but in my opinion, this video is a beautiful show of communications in a high-profile crisis situation. It's not often that we see such a well-rounded response to a crisis by the leader.

      • andreas andreou July 6, 2013 at 4:42 pm #

        Hi Melissa,
        I agree with you.But I believe if the reputation of army is not at high level,anything you try to
        said or to fix looks for the general opinion' wrong'.The general make goog work in that case.
        Thanks Andreas.

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  1. Weekend Thoughts: How To Show Leadership In A Crisis « K.C. Saling | Art & Science - June 29, 2013

    […] more on this, check out this article from my awesome friend Melissa on Melissa Agnes Crisis Management, addressing the issue from a crisis professional’s standpoint. She was gracious enough to […]

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