Here’s some new information about how the French likely lost the battle of Agincourt despite outnumbering their English foes by somewhere between 6 and 10 to 1.
I know you think I’ve totally lost it now. This is a crisis communication blog and I’m talking about an obscure battle in 1415. Hold on, there is a connection.
I chose Agincourt for the name of my new consulting company because, aside from having a nice ring to it, that battle represents how new technology, skillfully and strategically applied, can achieve the near impossible, change the course of history and turn losers into winners. I saw in the story of the English longbow and a small group of English archers defeating the cream of French knighthood a similarity to what I was attempting to do with the crisis communication technology I developed when implemented with the appropriate strategies.
This story just may upset that nice, tidy picture. It says, in effect, that the battle may not have been won so much by the new longbow technology and the skillful application of it by King Henry IV as it was lost by the French being overburdened with too much armor. The story reports on scientific research done on how much energy was expended when wearing the huge suits of armor, often weighing over 100 pounds. As much as I want to hang onto the story of strategic application of technology I think there is great truth in what this article reports–particularly when you know that the battle was fought in rain with a horrible muddy field.
So, what does this have to do with crisis communication and winning and losing? While I still think that the right technology applied with the right strategy is key to winning, I have also seen that most crisis communication battles are lost by employing too much armor. Clearly CEOs have become very concerned about their crisis vulnerability. This study by Burson-Marsteller shows that many CEOs expect to have a crisis in the near term. So they tend to pile on the armor. CEO or senior management decision-making over all response details. Approvals required from multiple levels in the organization before release. Legal review over everything. It’s all understandably aimed at protecting the organization in a time of great risk. But like the French knights, many organizations find that complicated management processes, burdensome approval processes, legal and financial reviews will bog them down and make it impossible to win the war.
Looking at a crisis from the viewpoint of a medieval battlefield, the enemies are extremely nimble. Whether those “enemies” be the media, activists, competitors, aggrieved former customers or employees–all these have freedom to communicate without restriction. Very few companies and organizations are that nimble. The technology, including the crisis communication management technology, is designed to make them very nimble, but if the processes are burdened down with the heavy armor of top-down restrictions, no technology can compensate.
The French army did not understand that the nimbleness of the enemy, despite their small numbers, combined with the horrid mud conditions meant that all the protections they put in place would kill them. Senior management must understand the same applies today in the battle for reputation and a future we call crisis management.