Local firm says there is a better way to manage a crisis

by Jennifer Stewart

In the world of managing crises, there are a few tenets that underpin any good strategy: integrity, transparency and swift action.

When it comes to the events unfolding in Ottawa, these guiding principles still ring true, but many additional layers of complexity have been added to the mix. With three levels of government with jurisdictional oversight of the protest area involved, clear lines of communication and strategy for offering unified public messaging have never been more important.

While no doubt all levels of government are acting in good faith, there are a few lessons that can be gleaned from the last two weeks, in which global eyes have descended on our Nation’s Capital.

Time Matters

We are three weeks into the protest overwhelming downtown Ottawa. The Rideau Centre has been closed, businesses have lost much-needed revenue, and many residents have lost both sleep and a sense of safety and security.

We are seeing leadership on different levels announce their plans to reclaim our downtown core, but leadership has been lacking in the wake of the crisis. Quite simply, being nimble and taking a clear leadership position quickly, regardless of whether you may need to change course based on new information, is important in creating a sense of calm and direction in an otherwise very unstable and uncertain time.

Optics Matter

We saw at the beginning of the pandemic leaders of all levels of government provide press briefings on a near-daily basis. Regardless of what the update was, visible leadership demonstrated that the health and well-being of Canadians was a priority, and pandemic management was being taken seriously.

Governments, take note. Regular briefings on what was happening in Ottawa’s downtown core should have been occurring throughout this crisis, even if the update was just to let citizens know that a plan was in play.

Toss Partisanship to the Wayside

Crises are not the time for partisan politics. Canadians needed to see governments working together to achieve their shared goal of keeping citizens safe. In times of upheaval, there is no appetite for petty partisan politics.

Coming together to achieve an integrated plan with a measurable outcome that could be clearly communicated, including what role each level of government would play, would have eased fears and shown unified leadership.

Perfectionism is the Enemy of Progress

Waiting for a perfect solution often means time wasted and opportunity lost. In a time of crisis, don’t wait for that perfect moment or strategy. Move toward your ultimate end game – the removal of protestors from Ottawa’s downtown core – with the information you have at the time.

People don’t expect perfection, but they do expect transparency and genuine effort in making an untenable situation better. At the end of the day, crisis communications is not spinning a message and changing the narrative. It’s actually quite simple: leadership that is strongly and consistently communicated. Let’s hope to see more of that in the coming days.

Jennifer Stewart is the President and CEO of Syntax Strategic, a nationally recognized media and communications firm based in Ottawa.

Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse