It’s surprising and stunning that JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs have got this so wrong. As CNBC reported, both banks’ employees are learning about Coronavirus cases in their buildings from press reports and not from their leaders. Their policies are “to inform only those who have been on the floor or who may have had contact with a sick person.” The right approach to crisis management and crisis communication is to think in terms of physical safety, reputation and finances – in that order. These banks skipped step one, thereby hurting their reputations as well.

Here’s why it’s even more important to follow the right approach now:

Physical Safety First

COVID is still here. People are still scared. Everyone’s first question about any change you’re proposing (including re-opening your offices) is “What does this mean for me and my family?” If they don’t believe you have their physical safety as your first priority, they’re not going to hear anything else you have to say.

Putting people’s safety first is not a choice. Do what you have to do to protect your team, customers and community. This is a classic “Be. Do. Say.” leadership moment. No one is going to believe what you say about safety first unless your actions match your words. And if your words and actions don’t match your fundamental, underlying beliefs, you will slip and you will get caught. No one is going to trust you as a leader unless you are trustworthy.

Not keeping people informed about COVID cases in their buildings was a violation of trust by JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs. The ramifications are far greater and will be far more long-lasting than they realize. It will take a long time for the banks’ leaders to re-earn the trust of their employees and their families.

What you should takeaway to avoid the self-inflicted COVID communication disaster at JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs: Put physical safety first. Believe it matters. Act like it matters. Talk about it like it matters. In that order.

Reputation

There is no daylight between corporate or organizational reputation and leadership reputation. The leaders of poorly regarded organizations suffer reputational hits, and organizations with poorly regarded leaders suffer similar reputational hits.

There is also no daylight between internal and external communication anymore. As this example highlights, internal people read and share external news stories. And internal communication finds its way into external platforms instantly.

This is why these banks’ policies of trying to compartmentalize information is so ludicrously out of date. There are no compartments. Information flows from one compartment inside the organization to people outside the organization and then back in.

What you should takeaway to avoid the self-inflicted COVID communication disaster at JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs: Know that everything communicates. If there was ever a time to be consistent and transparent, it’s now. Everything you say and do and don’t say and don’t do and everything anyone in your organization says and does and doesn’t say and doesn’t do will impact your organization’s reputation and yours.

Crisis Management Framework

The essence of our proposed crisis management approach, per my earlier article on Learnings from Boeing’s 737 Max, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble on Crisis Management, is all about inspiring and enabling others to get things vaguely right quickly, and then adapt along the way – with clarity around direction, leadership and roles.

  1. PREPARE IN ADVANCE: The better you have anticipated possible scenarios, the more prepared you are, the more confidence you will have when crises strike.
  2. REACT TO EVENTS: The reason you prepare is so that all can react quickly and flexibility to the situation they face. Don’t over-think this. Let people do what they prepared to do.
  3. BRIDGE THE GAPS. In a crisis, there is inevitably a gap between the desired and current state of affairs. Rectify that by bridging those gaps in the current situation, your response and ability to prevent future crises..

This is recapped in our Crisis Management tool. Click here to get a free copy or download it from www.onboardingtools.com.

Ultimately, what you’re going to be left with after the crisis is your personal and brand reputation. Re-look at your brand values. Make sure you are protecting your core strategic planks. Treat all in a way that enhances your reputation with them. Over time, they’ll remember how you treated them and how you made them feel at the worst moments.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #662) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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