No business is immune to crises. And while you cannot always anticipate everything that is going to happen, preparation for crisis management will prevent you from being awestruck and without anything to say or do in immediate response demanded by the crisis. Without the proper preparation or prevention, crisis and incident management becomes an ad hoc race to clean up a seemingly endless series of issues without a plan to contend with the crisis as a whole.
A crisis counts as any unplanned circumstance that results in a negative consequence or something that has the possibility of producing threatening results. These situations require you to think and act quickly and respond with a clear mind and quick fingers.
Any potential crisis makes it essential to have a robust crisis management plan in place. This ensures that your company and personnel will be prepared for whatever emergency should arise and help divert any potential harm. The totality of crisis management includes the process of preparing for a crisis, dealing with them in real time and recovering from them effectively.
Preparing your crisis management plan and a team is not an option for your company – it is a necessity. And here are some steps that you can take to evaluate and prepare your crisis management plan.
Identify the Responsible People
Neither nobody claiming responsibility or taking action, or multiple employees addressing the same crisis in different ways at the same time are acceptable. It must be clearly understood who may speak on behalf of the company in different types of matters such as natural disasters, bomb threats, investigative reporter’s inquiries, federal government investigations, investor challenges, or a serious complaint by a large group of employees. Each of these examples could have different leaders and teams responsible for such crisis. At a minimum, regular employees should know not to comment on camera on a crisis affecting the business.
Designated media contacts or assigned officers need to channel all communications. Leaders similarly need to name alternates in their absence. It is possible to assemble a few draft responses in a calm period which, in the heat of a crisis, are far better than starting from a blank screen. Conventional wisdom of “less is more” or “no comment” may substantially ignite an already hot crisis. “No comment” is no strategy. Predetermined groups or standing committees that know to assemble provide timely reactions. It is often essential to hear from the top.
Identify the Potential Crisis
One of the first steps in assessing your crisis preparedness is taking time to identify the potential crisis opportunities themselves. It is important to note that external and internal factors can lead to a crisis, so equal attention should be given to both. This process is an excellent time to look back into the past of the company and catalog any previous crises that the business has faced. By addressing these past crises, it helps open your eyes to the weaknesses of the business and only by identifying these weaknesses can you address them and prepare for the future.
Any prominent, trending news stories that could be your company should be discussed as to what you would do in such circumstance. How and to whom do you respond to a data breach? In this context, you can be penalized for not responding quickly enough and at the same time initially describing the crisis as being much smaller than its actual magnitude, making management look incompetent. It is a delicate balance on how to effectively be sincere and transparent when dealing with a live, substantial threat.
Find the Weaknesses
Identifying any potential crisis opportunities will seamlessly flow into the discovery of the weaknesses of the organization and any current crisis management plan. Work through a host of “what if” scenarios to address these weaknesses. A vulnerability audit can be performed to help expose any shortcomings of the company, either in the operations or with communications. It is important to remember that in the time of a crisis, any weaknesses that your company has will be magnified. By recognizing and addressing them ahead of time, you are setting the organization up for success in developing a robust and comprehensive crisis management plan.
Be honest and direct to employees, third-parties, and the public. Avoid attempts to outright deny or minimize initially, as all the facts are certainly not in. I like original thought or comment tailored to the situation at hand, as opposed to “the company intends to investigate this matter seriously”, “the company is unaware of any wrongdoings”, and “the company completely denies all allegations and intends to fight this matter vigorously, in a court of law.” These types of phrases have been used too often, to the point, they are detrimental to credibility and perceived honesty. More obvious, normal human beings don’t talk this way. Stilted comments in a serious crisis may be perfectly worded but draw unintended suspicion.
Understand the Goals
The primary goal of any crisis management plan is to address the matter, seek resolution, and protect the company, its employees, and it’s reputation. Along with that, ensuring that you are guiding key players during a crisis and reducing any tension during the situation. A goal-oriented crisis management plan will help business executives demonstrate confidence and competence during a crisis, and it will help the entire company understand and control relevant information that is relayed. Executives practiced in public speaking and speaking before a camera are ideal. It is also possible to develop the skills and practice through certain providers such as Anett Grant of Executive Speaking which coaches C-suite executives for such contingencies. It is essential that the speaker, the words, and the actions are perceived as genuine and sincere. Anything else will only make the situation far worse.
Begin the Coordination
Once the potential crises, weaknesses, and goals are established for the business, you can begin to develop and coordinate the sets of crisis management plans. It can be common for a business to have, for example, natural disaster plans, drawn up for any potential natural disaster but not cross-examine or coordinate between them, and therefore they create conflict and confusion in the face of these crises instead of direction and relief.
The most important planning you will do as you look to crisis management is operational – how your company will function internally in the face of the issue – and communicational – how your company will communicate with both internal and external audiences. That external audience can be shareholders, customers, vendors, or the general public.
Create plans that are coordinated for likely potential crisis and ensure that you involve the personnel whom this plan will affect in the process. Spending the time preparing your company for the risk of a crisis will help to strengthen it overall and help the whole team stay calm and collected no matter what happens.
John Ellsworth has successfully managed through multiple crises domestic and foreign for 17 years at public companies. You can read more about John here.