In a crisis, what kind of connection do you want with an organisation – machine or human?
Will you rely on an app or seek a human voice? When you call – and eventually get through – do you want an automated response to push button 1, then 2, then 3 – or to speak with a human?
Would you prefer that decisions are made about a crisis response on the basis of data – or as a result of human empathy? From experience and expertise or because the computer says so – or doesn’t.
Attending the recent Deloitte Crisis Management Conference, presenters who’d been involved in major crisis situations told human stories. Their own experiences. Those of victims or others affected. Those who sought to help. Those who struggled in some way.
Each story was about the humanity required in crisis management.
Organisations are not human – but humans form organisations. Companies and charities; public bodies, political organisations and parliaments; emergency services and volunteers. We are humans. Helping humans.
The media should never forget that those affected are humans. Never lose their humanity – as was clear in many of the crisis situations narrated.
Reporting the news of a crisis should not be left to technology.
Invariably in a crisis, it appears that technology proves itself to be problematic rather than able to enhance a human response.
Phones systems unable to cope. Data that’s inaccurate. Reliance on equipment that was too complex in the heat of the moment. Whilst humans create these, they are invisible – allowing the technology to take centre stage.
The machine human interface raises questions. The more we rely on technology, the more automated this is in a crisis situation, the more the machines learn and react, the more decisions are derived from big data, the more the intelligence is artificial – the greater the risk.
Humans are unreliable. We are unpredictable. We are affected by the emotion of a crisis situation. We rise to the occasion or we collapse through the pressure. We find inner strength and support each other.
We are human. Those we are communicating with, building relationships with, seeking to help, who we work with in resolving a problem – are human.
In a crisis a machine can only respond as it is programmed. Technology can only operate within its set parameters. Data is history, even as it emerges. It relies on precedent in making predictions.
It takes a human to decide how to react to this situation. What is happening now. What could happen as predicted by the machines or understood from our training, our instincts. Our ability to put ourselves in the position of others. To be able to override history and act to make history.
The digital systems and manuals need to support the humans. We are not the support to the technology, the machines, the data, the AI.
We must never forget that a crisis requires humanity. Nor that it is in the chaos of a crisis that our humanity is most needed.
This is especially true for those of us who have responsibility for communications and relationships. Our reputation lies in our human response. Not false apologies, nor constructed excuses. Not obfuscation or panic. Not in hiding from the reality of how others feel, how they react, how they hold us to account.
We are the humans that understand humans. We should speak from our humanity and that of our leaders. We are professionals but we are people.
That’s the least – and the most – we can be.
This is one of a trilogy of blog posts inspired by attending the Deloitte Crisis Management conference. The other two posts are:
- How to avoid a ‘PR disaster’ at PRPlace.
- Career ambitions beyond strategic communications at PR Conversations