A Personal Perspective on Crisis Management
The best way to manage a crisis is to not have one.
Things will happen – you can’t totally control your fate – but when ‘stuff happens’ you can respond in a way that reduces the chance it will become a major crisis for your organization. Many events start small, but if not handled well can be calamitous.
This involves a combination of understanding the type of events that may arise and create a crisis, avoiding practices that can get you to into trouble, having controls in place to minimize the frequency and impact of adverse events, and generally being prepared.
This all sounds like traditional contingency planning/business resumption planning. In another life, both functions (for IT and the business) reported to me. I think we put some decent measures in place, but the most important was a Crisis Communications Plan.
The idea behind a Crisis Communications Plan was simple, and I think still applies today: you can’t have specific, detailed plans for every possible thing that can happen. Yes, you can be prepared for what you assess as the most likely and calamitous events (such as an earthquake in California, or a hurricane in Florida). But you can’t have detailed plans for every possible safety incident, alleged violation of law or regulations, IT intrusion or event, executive misstep, etc. wherever and whenever it may happen – and many of us work with global companies with operations and people all over the world.
The Crisis Communications Plan tells every manager who to contact and how if something happens. It also limits who can speak for the company to the employee population; the press; regulators, government agencies, the police, etc; customers and vendors; etc. The Plan will include guidance on when an event needs to be escalated to the next levels of management, all the way to the board.
The Plan puts decision-making on crisis response in the right hands. Not only does it say who can speak for the company, but it will bring senior management into the response process quickly – before the situation becomes severe.
Many times, the last person you want to talk to the press or other third parties is the CEO. The CEO may not be as familiar with the situation and the issues, let alone have been trained in the nuances of talking to agencies, etc.
If management has received appropriate training on how to respond to a potential event, the Plan can be as simple as a list of names and contact information, by general type of event, on a wallet-sized card.
Does your receptionist know who to call if the police arrive? Who do you call if somebody tells you that somebody has collapsed on the factory floor and there is a strange smell in the area? Who decides whether to close operations, evacuate the workers – and notify the local government agencies?
Who would you call if……….