Responding When a Third Party’s Crisis Impacts Your Org

Conflict assistance and negotiation management with third party help vector illustration.

[Editor's Note: With negotiations between UPS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters still ongoing and the looming potential for the former to strike, businesses large and small must be prepared for disruption. Here, our author identifies the impact a third-party partner can have on an organization and how businesses should efficiently and accurately communicate a plan to their stakeholders.]

Almost every company has been there: a partner, otherwise completely unknown to your end consumer, plays a critical role in the trust, reputation and relationship cultivated with that client or customer. But what happens when that unseen, and most likely unfamiliar, entity faces its own crisis that precludes it from meeting the expectations of your stakeholder?

You are now in crisis mode. Without being at fault, you are likely to be blamed and it is your reputation and trust that will be tested.

The interconnected nature of the world’s supply chains and business relationships means this is a “when,” not an “if,” scenario for all organizations. To effectively manage through these moments, an organization should focus on a few key actions:

Plan for the Inevitable Interruption: Before you even find yourself in one of these situations, ensure your organization has undertaken a supply chain/partner risk assessment to understand where your vulnerabilities are. As part of that assessment, evaluate the readiness of your partners, map potential contingencies, understand when and how to activate those workarounds when needed, and set up clear processes and protocols for coordination and communication with each partner.

Be Transparent but Don’t Pass the Buck: No matter the facts surrounding who is at fault, your stakeholders will be looking to the organization they have a direct relationship with to not just provide information, but also express their frustration.

Be prepared to share information in a straightforward manner that provides context and explains what occurred without coming across defensively. Instead of “Sorry, we can’t help; it isn’t our problem,” maintain the ownership of your relationships and let them know you are working on their behalf.

An example of what to communicate instead may be, “A contractor we work with unfortunately [DETAILS ON WHAT OCCURRED]. We regret that this has impacted our ability to provide the level of service you’ve come to expect from us. Know we are working tirelessly with this company to rectify the matter as quickly as possible.”

Communicate Solutions-Oriented Actions: Your stakeholders may or may not give you a pass on the initial ‘blame,’ but they will absolutely hold you accountable for how the situation is resolved.

Concentrate on sharing ongoing updates detailing what actions are being taken, both by you and by the responsible party, and how you will ultimately be making the impacted stakeholder whole. If vulnerabilities are identified, describe how you are addressing those gaps to prevent similar situations in the future.

If you are sticking with the partner that had the issue, why and what are you doing to maintain accountability with them? If you are replacing that partner ultimately, identify what went into that decision and how the new partner will be an enhancement to the overall service provided to your stakeholder(s).

As with any crisis, whether it is due to something within or outside of an organization’s control, it isn’t the immediate crisis that causes the long-term impacts. How an organization responds, and continues to respond, over the course of a crisis presents a unique moment to further build trust and reputational credits with key stakeholders.

Those stakeholders will be looking to the company they connect to as the responsible party and it is incumbent upon your organization to meet and exceed those expectations—regardless of where fault for an issue falls.