It’s not something that any of us want to think about, but it is a reality.
Crisis management can be difficult and stressful. It often seems like things are out of our control and the situation is too big for us to handle alone. But there are some steps we can take in order to ensure crisis management will go smoothly when the time comes. Take your time now to learn these seven deadly sins of crisis management so you don’t have to worry about them later!
Not Having a Clearly Defined Organizational Policy and Senior Leadership Approval
An organization’s crisis management capability needs to be developed within the unique context of that organization and will, with time, become dependent on it. For the crisis capability to have any credibility, it should be developed based on clearly defined organizational policies approved by senior leadership. The capability to manage crises should not be seen as something that can simply be developed as and when needed. It requires a systematic approach that creates structures and processes, trains people to work within them and is evaluated and developed in a continuous, purposeful and rigorous way. The development of a crisis management capability should be viewed as a mainstream activity and one that is proportionate to an organization’s size and capacity.
Lack of a well-established Crisis Management System
A crisis management system should be part of the mainstream of organizational management and not just a set of arrangements for responding to the “day of the crisis.” That implies it will be apparent that additional work for the organization and, possibly, some significant changes. But developing, exercising and being able to use a crisis management system can provide a shared sense of focus, a collective purpose and higher levels of confidence and morale. This can lead to an organization that is generally more resilient and better able to adapt to change. Well-prepared organizations that deal effectively with actual or potential crises may emerge from the experience stronger, internally and in terms of their brand, even after suffering significant short-term losses. On the other hand, organizations that are seen to have failed to prepare for a crisis will suffer potentially massive reputational damage. They may even be seen as having betrayed their staff, customers, and stakeholders.
One of the most important functions of a leader in a crisis is to stabilize the situation as much as possible. A very important aspect of crisis leadership at the start of the response is the ability to identify and take steps that will limit the damage already caused and contain it, so that subsequent activities have a firm basis. Chaos will reign as a crisis evolves and the leader’s primary role initially is to demonstrate calmness, authority and determination. This will serve to defuse tensions, provide a focus for activity, inspire confidence in the team and reassure stakeholders that something is being accomplished.
Strong leadership at times exhibits a literal strong personal force, but the leadership in a crisis also needs consensus building and is a collective product, where more often decisive decisions have more to do with teamwork, flexibility, communications and brokering solutions. At both levels, leaders need to be comfortable within the uncertainties that crises present and capable of driving an organization coherently through very confused situations. Many will argue that the number one personal attribute of a good leader is “confidence.” In our experience we have observed that the top crisis management teams (CMT) have good leaders who have gone through a number of exercises with different scenarios and through the process have become more comfortable with their contingency plans and their team. They exhibit more and more “confidence” with each exercise.
Limited External Relationships (Reputational Capital)
One of the most invaluable assets an organization in the throes of a crisis can have are credible and respected third-party supporters. The company’s CEO can deliver messages about how responsible and effective the company is in its handling of a crisis, let’s say, a fire. But, far better for the company’s crisis communications and its long-term reputation would be if the local fire chief were to report that the company’s handling of the fire was highly responsible and effective. Too often, companies ignore the importance of forming these relationships, and when a crisis occurs, their communications suffer.
But gaining third-party support doesn’t just happen. It must be strategically developed over time and is an essential part of crisis preparedness. Gaining third-party support includes engaging regularly with the types of third parties who can lend their support during a crisis. Fostering good relations with the local police and fire departments are key. So too are cultivating close relationships with those constituents your business depends on – customers and their communities, news media, employees, government officials. As part of your efforts to cultivate third-party support, you’ll want to be a good corporate citizen, visibly supporting things your constituents’ value, such as local education, sports, healthcare and cultural programs.
Lack of Situational Awareness
The key asset in crisis management is information. Its effective management is crucial. At some point information should be processed into a form that can be used as a coherent basis for decision-making. This is called Situational Awareness (SA). SA is the concept of developing the ability to observe your environment, orientate to rapid changes, and make decisions and act upon those decisions at a quick pace during high-tempo operations. SA also goes beyond knowing the now; it is also being able to assess the implications of what is (and what is not) going on and to project how the current situation might evolve in the future. It is important to recognize that at all times during the crisis there is a clear understanding between what is definitely known, what is rumor or assumptions, and what is being reported by others (e.g., media, social media, local first responders, regulatory agencies, etc.). Good SA leads to what often is referred to as the “Common Operational Picture;” that is, the same understanding by everyone of what has occurred, what actions are underway to address the crisis, and what is the desired outcome. Developing SA is a deliberate, active, and disciplined process that requires practice and should be exercised on a frequent basis. Developing the ability to achieve SA as an individual is a great benefit; but having the ability to achieve it as a team is the ultimate goal.
Lack of Defined Roles and Responsibilities of Crisis Team Members (who’s responsible for what?)
Roles and responsibilities required to implement all crisis management capabilities should be identified, documented, and communicated well in advance of a crisis. Thoughtful consideration should be given to people, skills, experience and competence. Included in this process is consideration for the resources needed for each element of the capability and the associated requirements for training. Individual(s) should be appointed and given appropriate authority to be accountable for the development and implementation of crisis management capability, and its ongoing maintenance and management, across the whole organization.
Not Having a Decision-Making Process Pre-Determined
Responding to a crisis without a pre-determined decision-making model or having to respond to a crisis with a new decision-making model that has not been previously employed by your crisis management team is in effect putting your organization at a great disadvantage. Valuable time that could be used to stabilize the situation and start the recovery process will be lost. This is a mistake that can be rectified. There are a number of decision-making models that have been used successfully by corporate and military organizations during times of crisis. These models include the 5-step, 7-step, 8-step process, and variations of each. While any of these decision-making models can be effectively employed by your organization, to a large degree your success with employing any model will largely be determined by your team’s familiarity with the model’s process. That is, the crisis management team needs to conduct exercises employing the decision-making model selected by leadership and incorporate different scenarios so team members will have a good understanding of the process and their roles and responsibilities before an actual crisis occurs.
The following should be taken into consideration when preparing for an effective crisis management capability:
- Leadership and commitment to the development of a cohesive team that is trained, practiced, and ready.
- Understanding Situational Awareness (SA) and how it increases each individual’s ability to contribute effectively in times of crises.
- Knowing what to expect in a crisis and having the ability to have an effective decision-making process.
- Defining roles and responsibilities of crisis team members in advance.
- Having a process for training individuals and the team on how to respond to a crisis.
- Frequent exercising of crisis management capabilities.
These are just a few items that will help an organization be better prepared when faced with a crisis. The bottom line is that crisis management can be learned; however, it takes commitment and teamwork to make the development of an effective capability happen.
See how you can improve your personal and organizational crisis management capabilities by joining us at the 2022 7th Annual International Crisis Management Conference.