Losing Your Identity in Times of Crisis

As the excitement of the new year fades into the rearview mirror, it’s not uncommon for business leaders and their teams to find themselves caught in the relentless demands of day-to-day operations by February, leaving their grand plans gathering dust on the shelf.

Whether it’s the pressing urgency of immediate needs or simply the allure of familiarity, the reality is that many of us find ourselves losing sight of our goals as we navigate the business landscape. This can be further exacerbated by a crisis in your organization.

But it is possible to reclaim your focus, even amid a crisis!

In times of adversity, the very essence of a company, its brand voice, focus on business goals, and adherence to its mission can crumble like a house of cards. It’s strikingly reminiscent of the fight-or-flight stress response we experience as individuals.

When faced with a threat, both an individual and a business can succumb to an emotionally-driven knee-jerk reaction. This often leads to a swift and irreparable departure from strategic thinking, causing an organization to lose sight of its mission, goals, and brand voice.

In our extensive experience, we’ve observed this pattern across various sectors. From the energy industry grappling with environmental concerns to healthcare navigating public health crises, the travel and hospitality sector facing unforeseen challenges, and even the nonprofit realm weathering funding uncertainties — the common thread is the vulnerability of identity in crisis.

How can organizations better navigate a crisis while maintaining their identity, strategic focus, and brand integrity? It is tempting to react quickly, and sometimes swift action is needed – but there is ALWAYS time for what we call the “Critical 10.”

This could be literally 10 minutes, but hopefully you have a few hours or even days to determine how YOU want to respond. Regardless of how much time you have, start by taking a collective deep breath, pause to confer with colleagues or trusted advisors, and then determine the steps that you will need to take in order to ensure every action is aligned with the company’s mission and goals. It is precisely in those moments, when you feel like you don’t have time to be thoughtful or strategic, that a deliberate and strategic approach is most paramount.

In one example, think about a major healthcare organization facing a crisis related to patient data security. Rather than hastily responding to media inquiries and escalating tensions, the leadership takes a step back. They engage in open and transparent communication, acknowledging the issue, outlining immediate corrective actions, and communicating a commitment to ongoing improvement. This measured response not only protects the organization’s reputation, but also demonstrates a steadfast commitment to its mission of patient care.

There is an additional challenge when your team is too close to an issue. This is where trusted external advisors can provide invaluable perspectives and guidance. A fresh set of eyes, with expertise in navigating crises and unclouded by feelings of personal attachment, can provide strategic insights that help your team respond in a way that aligns with long-term goals.

Responding to a crisis shouldn’t deviate from your organization’s established communication practices. It should reinforce them. Organizations that are strategic and always stay true to their brand voice build trust with their audiences and emerge from crises with their reputation intact, if not improved.

As a parting piece of advice, I urge business leaders to engrain in their crisis management playbook a simple yet powerful mantra: “Breathe, Reflect, Align.” When faced with adversity, take that deep breath collectively as an organization. Reflect on your mission, goals, and brand voice. Ensure that every action, and every statement, is aligned with the core identity of your company. In doing so, you not only weather the storm but emerge stronger, with your organizational identity not just preserved but fortified. In a crisis, remember: It’s not about fighting against the opposition. It’s about fighting for the enduring identity and mission of your organization.