Telum Talks To Antoine Calendrier, EVP and Head of Crisis & Trust Services, APAC at Edelman

Telum Talks To Antoine Calendrier, EVP and Head of Crisis & Trust Services, APAC at Edelman

Antoine Calendrier leads Edelman’s Issues and Crisis Practice for Asia Pacific, bringing with him over two decades of international communications credentials with multinational corporations, governmental organisations and global brands, including Microsoft, Huawei, Qualcomm and Boeing. We caught up with Antoine to talk about the pathway to trust - how organisations can rebuild after a crisis.

The past year has seen its fair share of crises in the APAC region. What are some of the common threads or themes you have seen across these?
Over the last couple of years, we have seen a continued rise in cyber-threats and data breaches - in particular ransomwares - across the region. On this front, one of most significant changes that have been experienced in APAC, is the scale of the operational impact these cybersecurity issues have had on organisations. From network outages to large infrastructure shutdowns, cyber actors are findings new ways to materially and durably damage businesses.

Beyond cybercrime, organisations have been witnessing a deep erosion of stakeholder trust in most APAC countries. Australia, in particular, has experienced a significant drop in public trust in traditional institutions (Business, NGOs, Government and Media) where none of them are currently seen as trustworthy. This trust decrease is taking place within an overall polarised environment - with complex geopolitical and economic interplays that make the horizon incredibly hard to read for business leaders.
How much of successfully navigating and surviving a major crisis comes down to having a strong brand to begin with, versus planning and preparation, response and communications, and your actions subsequent to a crisis? And does this differ depending on the type of crisis? (e.g. reputational, physical, financial, environmental) 
For businesses, having a strong brand essentially means having trust in the bank. There is a well-established body of research on trust showing that solid trust equity is the single-most critical protector for an organisation facing a major crisis and a critical driver of business resilience. Nurturing strong trust equity not only helps to absorb the initial shock of a crisis, but also allows the organisation to rebuild faster and stronger. Therefore, when an organisation prepares itself to withstand the event of a crisis, step number one is to build a solid trust foundation. While the protective benefit of trust is generally well understood, its post-crisis rebounding characteristic is less known - and yet this is one of the most potent powers of trust. In the crisis recovery phase, the trust attributes that are usually considered as “soft” - such as brand purpose and integrity - are the most trust-restorative. The attributes of ability and dependability, which are performance-related, play an important yet usually secondary role in recovering from a crisis.
There are many, many examples of major corporations losing enormous amounts of trust, goodwill and shareholder value because they went straight on the defensive. What should the focus and thinking of an organisation be when crisis does strike? 
One of the critical shifts that an organisation needs to make when a crisis strikes is to “unfreeze” as quickly as possible from the initial shock. Easier said than done. For most organisations, it is extremely challenging to absorb the blow of a crisis while putting the organisation in motion to respond to the situation. This critical pivot, which is a marker of successful crisis response, can usually only be carried out by a crisis-prepared organisation. Unprepared businesses, not trained to face the surprising dimension of a crisis, tend to move on the defensive. Simultaneously, in the current volatile environment, while crisis preparedness activities remain critical, scenario planning is showing clear limitations.

Today, businesses are much better positioned to respond to threats by making use of agile crisis frameworks which enable greater situational intelligence - as opposed to “plans” which have proven to be too static to address fast-moving issues. These frameworks are powerful in that they enable a dynamic and cohesive view of the issues to address, the operational resolution of the crisis, the stakeholder communications required and the coordination with the critical constituents of the business.
What is the best path to recovery and rebuilding trust during and after a crisis? 
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to rebuilding trust after a crisis, organisations should consider three critical dimensions to replenish their trust tank.

The first one is to get a clear understanding of the impact of the crisis on stakeholder trust. This should be done through trust-specific measurement that quantifies the damage on stakeholder perceptions, attitudes and behaviours. Concurrently, organisations need to look inward and understand specifically which part of the business trust equity has been impacted.

Second, business leaders need to hold the mirror and look at their own trustworthiness as they recover from the situation. How have their perceived competence, integrity and benevolence been impacted? This step is critical to regain trust not only with external stakeholders but equally with their employees.

Finally, organisations must endeavour to harness their drivers of organisational trust to build trust-focused strategies that will bring the organisation back onto a trusted pathway.

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