Collaboration for the Win: How collaborative communication produces better results

woman in eyeglasses with smartphone

It’s 5:30 p.m. on Friday, the typical time that a crisis strikes, and a resident notified the office that he was the victim of an armed robbery.

The leasing associate submits an incident report to the corporate office. Someone at the corporate office receives the report, adjusts a letter template and forwards it to the manager to send to residents. Unfortunately, the letter is wrought with factual inaccuracies (the individual robbed wasn’t a resident), not enough about what the onsite team is going to do about the situation (this was the third such incident in less than a week) and information that could create legal risks (the letter said a suspect was in custody although the police hadn’t caught anybody at all).

That’s why collaboration is key when communicating during a crisis or any other situation, such as reputation management. Every department brings knowledge and skill to the process that ensures your organization communicates effectively and completely.

Risk management would know if this was the first crime committed on site or if there’s a pattern of crime that needs to be addressed more extensively. Legal would know whether there is any outstanding litigation that needs to be factored into the situation. Operations would know whether there’s an off-duty police officer who already lives at the community and is paying close attention while at home. Human resources and training would know whether the individual calling in the crisis was trained properly on crisis protocol.

By consulting these departments in advance of communicating to resident – and even the media – as part of a collaborative, defined process, you can avoid numerous pitfalls, including:

Factual inaccuracies
In most communications sent to onsite teams, residents or the media, associates from several different departments are subject matter experts. Not consulting them prior to crafting and sending a communication can and often does lead to factual inaccuracies. The last thing you want to do in a crisis is communicate a factual inaccuracy.

For example, it doesn’t play well if you say the onsite team is implementing security cameras when they have no plans to do so or to say that a suspect is in custody when nobody has been arrested. Ensuring that you work closely with subject matter experts in legal, operations and risk management can prevent these inaccuracies from being shared with residents.

Not doing enough to address the challenge
Failing to collaborate with these groups closely to develop communications in any situation can lead to half-baked solutions to real challenges. When responding to negative reviews, it’s common to just let onsite teams respond or to have a third-party respond with generic messages. The unfortunate reality is that these two methods can easily become victims of tunnel vision.

The onsite team is emotionally invested in the situation, so team members can often miss the fact that 10 other residents had the same complaint and there’s something wrong with the operational process that’s creating a broader customer service issue. A third-party reputation management expert who’s trained in collaborative reputation management and risk management are better equipped to catch those issues in the moment and provide consultation. That leads to a better response that can share what’s being done to address the problem.

Unintended legal consequences
This is probably the biggest risk to communicating in a vacuum. There’s a reason why consultants who give advice often say that they aren’t lawyers and that you should seek legal advice. Lawyers can spot legal issues in any situation fast.

Not consulting them before communicating in certain situations is like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. The stampede of potential problems can become overwhelming very quickly. When handling crisis communications, it’s always advisable to collaborate with legal counsel to ensure you don’t suffer unintended consequences from even doing what you would consider the right thing.

And the right thing is a lot more gray than you think during a crisis. For example, you might want to help out an injured resident by collecting donations, but there are HIPAA regulations with regard to sharing medical information and tax laws that impact donation collection.

It’s easy to make critical mistakes that cost you more than help you when sending out communications in a vacuum. Collaboration is key to sending the right message to the right people no matter the situation, even when that crisis strikes at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.

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