Simone Whitfield said consumers only care about accountability and are not that interested in the complexities of how a product gets to retail
Simone Whitfield said consumers only care about accountability and are not that interested in the complexities of how a product gets to retail

In a crisis remember the key Cs

26 October 2016

If the integrity of your supply chain is suddenly thrown into question and the reputation of your company is at stake, preparation is paramount.

In a crisis you will need to work fast, and usually without the facts you want, said Simone Whitfield, director of issues and crisis at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, speaking at the CIPS Annual Conference.

However, there are three things procurement needs to know to help their company through a crisis.

  • How early can you gather the necessary information about the supply chain under scrutiny?
  • How confident are you in the monitoring of your suppliers?
  • Who are your potential advocates, other firms or NGOs, that may be willing to speak out on your behalf? 

“Suddenly you’ve got a lot of people wanting information from you, and they all want it now,” said Whitfield, and many of them will also be under pressure to provide answers they might not have.

Speaking at a crisis management simulation at this year’s CIPS Conference, Whitfield said consumers care about accountability and not the challenges of traceability in a supply chain.

“They believe that the company from whom they are buying a service or a product is accountable for absolutely everything, from one end to the other, that goes into providing it,” she said. “And they’re really not that interested in the complexities of how that product gets to retail or how that service is provided.”

Preparation is key. “Wishful thinking does not make a plan,” said Whitfield. Many organisations will already have crisis management plans in place and procurement staff ought to familiarise themselves with them.

Even if you are not part of the team that will have to deal with media or other outside communications, Whitfield suggested procurement needed to get the correct messaging. “It’s going to need to be very consistent with what the rest of your organisation is saying,” she said, and it is important not to make promises you might not be able to keep.

When in doubt, Whitfield said remember “the key Cs”:

  • Concern: its OK to show concern without admitting guilt or liability
  • Control: show what your organisation is doing about the situation and demonstrate action
  • Commitment: to find out what happened and help those affected
  • Cooperation: whether it’s with a regulator, the authorities or internal stakeholders

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