Crisis management is a hugely underrated process. Most businesses don’t even think about it until they’re hit with a crisis, sales have hit rock bottom and they are desperate for something, anything to stop the bleeding. But, if you do a little research (just a little) you’ll discover there are certain basic steps you can take which will dramatically improve your chances of success. The first step is to know what not to do!
I’ll try to give you a basic outline of what not to do when it comes to crisis management and also what should be done. Some of these ideas may seem obvious but, you’d be surprised how many businesses forget them. So, let’s get started: Don’t put off dealing with the problem! You should always try to resolve crises as soon as possible. The longer you leave it the more difficult it will become. Things often get worse before they get better. So again, don’t make matters worse by putting off the inevitable. Also, what not to do is attempt to „fix” a problem by doing something which makes it worse. Or, at least, something which makes it more difficult for you to solve the problem later on. You should be familiar with a phrase „there’s nothing more permanent than a temporary solution”.
Failure: It’s Part of Life
Crisis management is not failure avoidance, at least not always. It’s not paralysis. It’s not wishful thinking. No. Good crisis managers know that sometimes… Things Just Go Bad! And they can become much worse, before they get better. So they are ready to respond with confidence, intelligence and skill! You see, a good crisis manager knows something about his organization which the rest of the world does not know.
She knows what really makes the organization tick. She knows its strengths and she knows its weaknesses. She knows the „feel” of the organization. In short, she is very much aware of the „culture” of the organization. A good crisis manager is not someone who attempts to manage from the outside. No. A good crisis manager is one who already resides within the culture of the organization. She is a „cultural insider.” And because she is part of the fabric of the organization, she is always there when needed… and… she becomes an indispensable part of the solution.
Crisis Management: What You Can Do to Prevent Failure
First point was already mentioned – know your organization. Crisis managers have to be able to quickly assess the crisis’ impact on the vital processes of the organization. They know the answers to vital questions. What are the organization’s strengths and weaknesses? What can be done to strengthen the organization’s ability to accomplish its mission? Is everyone even aware what is the organization’s mission? Crisis managers must also understand the internal dynamics of their organizations. For example, a large corporation will be very different from a small one. In a small organization people know each other, they have a lot of opportunities to talk to one another. Not so much in big ones. Crisis managers need to know who the key players are in their organizations. What are their (personal) goals and motivations? How will this crisis impact these individuals and their goals? What power centers (the people or groups with the most influence) exist in the organization?
Crisis managers must also understand how the organization is structured. Again, large corporations differ from small. Does the organization have a clear chain of command? Who are the decision makers? Who are the influencers? Where is the power located? Crisis managers must be able to assess the power and influence of different groups in the organization. Armed with this information they will be able to make far better decisions during a crisis. Thirdly, crisis managers need to develop strong problem solving skills. This is where many people fail. They get paralyzed by the enormity of the challenge before them. They get overwhelmed by the enormity of the decisions they have to make. The truth is there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to a crisis. What has changed is the speed at which things are occurring and the immediacy of the impact on your customers.
So what can you do more to avoid crisis management failure?
Well, for one thing, you need to… Learn How To Handle The Comms! Internally, externally and, very importantly, The Press! And, if you don’t already have a good PR person on your staff, you should consider hiring one. A good PR person will know when it is time to hold a press conference, how to prepare the press for that conference, and how to actually handle the press during the conference itself. Such person can provide invaluable insight to organization’s spokesperson, preparing for talking to a crowd of people who will look four times at every word that is said. They will also know what questions to ask, how to answer those questions, and how to deflect or otherwise deal with any negative questions that may be asked. In other words, they will help to „police the comms.” You should also make sure you are using the best possible spokesperson. Someone who is trained and experienced in public speaking will deliver your message more effectively than anyone else. And, if possible, choose that spokesperson early in the process and avoid scrambling during the crunch moments of a crisis. This person should be high in the hierarchy of the organization.
What else? Well, another thing you can do is Develop A Strong „Crisis Mindset” Amongst Your Top Management! This means your CEO, CFO, Board Chair, and other key executives need to understand that crises are going to occur with greater frequency now and for the foreseeable future. In fact, it is my belief, for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, that most corporations are currently involved in a significant crisis! The difference today is those corporations are no longer just battling one or two major problems, but rather, they are contending with an almost constant barrage of challenges. The reason I believe this is true is because… Crises Are Now Public Relations Opportunities! As I said earlier, most crises have a silver lining. Sometimes the impact of a bad PR situation can be overcome by the fact that the public actually comes to realize the positive aspects of the organization (i.e. the J&J Tylenol case, which I generally dislike using as an example for numerous reasons). Other times, the impact is so great the public loses confidence in the organization altogether and turns to other sources for whatever needs to be provided (Arthur Andersen anyone?). In any case, the goal of crisis management is not to eliminate all negative aspects, but rather, to minimize their impact and, when possible, to turn them into an opportunity for enhanced reputation and increased sales. What else? Oh yeah, you should also… Stop Waiting For The „Perfect” Crisis! That’s like waiting for the sun to go down before you take a picture of a sunset. The point is to take a lot of pictures of sunsets! Which basically means: practice, practice, practice.
How to Prepare for a Crisis
Summing up what was stated above, first of all Don’t Panic. Second, know all the facts that is humanly possible, both about your organization as well as the crisis at hand. Third, use the facts you know to your advantage. Fourth, make decisions based on this „advantage”. BUT! Keep in mind that while it’s crucial to stick to the facts the crisis might be on an emotional level. Manage the emotions too! Fifth, do not wait for disaster to strike before you take action (the best defense is a good offence). And lastly, do everything possible to make sure the disaster that DOES occur will NOT hurt people (people come first, ALWAYS), the environment, and in the end – your bottom-line.
This article is obviously far from complete but it may give you a head start in dealing with what’s coming. It wouldn’t even fit into one book. And there are many great books out there. Just do some research and find the ones that are right for you (or ask in the comments section). One last thing: Know this… The Chaos Is Coming (or is already here?). The organizations that will survive and prosper during the crisis times are going to be those who can bring something unique and valuable to the table. Organizations that understand the power of collaboration, the power of honesty and the power of human relations.
Don’t be afraid of The Crisis. Embrace it. Channel it. Use it to fuel your engines of growth and innovation. Who knows? Maybe this will be the one that gets you from being a local player to being a global corporation.