The term crisis management itself is enough to send executives and managers scurrying back to their desks, burying their heads in papers so they can be overlooked. If one is tapped to head a pre-crisis management team, it’s like being the designated fire marshal for your floor in the building. If you are appointed to manage a post-crisis event, you may have everything to lose and nothing to gain. After all you may be in the cross hairs of public opinion and totally distracted from your regular role in sales, marketing, advertising, or finance.
But crisis management is a vital function. It should be recognized as such by the CEO of any organization and communicated down the chain. Any one event, whether due to totally external factors or self created, a crisis can set an organization back years or deep six it, if not handled properly. Handling that one event may well far outweigh for example the importance of the market roll-out of a new product.
Pre-crisis management is preventative in nature. It helps you avoid a crisis. It also prepares you for handling a crisis in the event one occurs.
Post crisis management implements the plan you have prepared in anticipation of a crisis occurring.
So, what is a crisis. It can be any event or circumstance that has the potential for negatively impacting your organization whether it is damage to reputation, operations, markets, or products. Tainted, shoddy or defective products. High profile litigation. A government investigation. The resignation of a key officer. An environmental or natural disaster. n internet failure. Illegal employee activities. Computer data loss. A walkout or strike. The list goes on
The spill-over effect is the negative impact the event will have on your stakeholders – your customers, your suppliers, investors, employees, government officials, the public at large, the media. Major crises happen all the time. We have seen several recently and they are not pretty.PennStateof course, Wal-Mart’s Mexican subsidiary bribery story, Netflix’s pricing fiasco, Olympus Corporation’s cooked books, J&J’s poor handling of product recalls. These stories and many more underscore the necessity for pre-crisis management.
Of course we are not all Wal-Mart or Johnson & Johnson. But the owner of the local retail toy store has as much to gain from crisis management as the big boys. Bad press, damaged relationships, investor confidence, employee morale, supplier cut-offs, civil and criminal liability – none of these things happen only to giant institutions.
How to start. It’s easy. Brainstorm. No one can anticipate an exact crisis but we can all speculate as to what our organizations may be vulnerable. List these vulnerabilities and what you can do about them. Example: you are a farmer and need to protect yourself against weather-related events. Insurance coverage, smudge pots, protective coverings etc. may be your answer. Example: your supplier of critical components has had problems. Begin identifying and ordering from alternative sources of supply, vertical integration, overseas sources etc. may be your answer. Example: you produce or distribute products for human consumption. Check your sources for utmost reliability, third party liability insurance, random quality checks.
Other potential solutions to problems: alternate transportation sources, duplicate bookkeeping and records backup, key man insurance, family succession planning. All these actions, if circumstances warrant, can be extremely helpful in avoiding you being caught unaware.
Next, assemble a team, a core group made up of the CEO, your PR people and legal counsel. Identify those managers or employees who have the best in-depth knowledge and are capable of attacking a problem in their respective areas. Identify those managers and employees who are capable of succinctly explaining issues to top management and/or to the public. Assemble this team and assign roles. Ensure that you have an organized document management system in place that preserves data and information and be ready for fact finding. Develop a communications strategy which includes assigning responsibility for communication content and approval, and assigning the role of spokesperson. Recognize the need for different messages for different stakeholders. develop responses for different media, from press releases, on air responses and social media.
Don’t think you can handle everything in-house. Your attorney, your public relations consultant or those who you rely on for sage advice will come in handy. Outsiders have a broader perspective than you may have and can assist to anticipate problems, develop a plan, assist in investigations and document management, assess any legal exposure and help prepare public statements.
One observation I personally believe to be of utmost importance. If you look at some of the highly publicized crises of the day, many stem from lax ethics. Enhancing the bottom line has many times replaced the goal of doing the right thing, often at the expense of customers. Increasing short term profits may make a hero out of someone today but the actions taken to accomplish this may have severe repercussions to an organization tomorrow. A CEO can pressure everyone to redouble their efforts to increase revenues and profits and let employees find their own path or a CEO can communicate the need for high ethical standards which in the long run, will bear more fruit and allow everyone to come to work the next day. Crisis management especially crisis planning is a crucial effort to manage those events that have slipped by you. The worst and the best that can happen is that you will never have to implement your plan.