By: Global Gateway Advisors

In today’s digital, 24/7 news environment, organizations are more vulnerable than ever to a crisis arising and causing long-term reputational harm.

Creating a risk aware and intelligent culture can help both minimize the likelihood and mitigate the impact of these predictable, but unplanned situations.

From data breaches to natural disasters, the impact, frequency and visibility of crisis events are increasing. Responsible leadership takes preparatory action to anticipate and plan for the worst-case scenarios. Assembling a team early and having clear, concrete roles, responsibilities and protocols in place can help organizations minimize damage and more quickly resolve issues when they inevitably occur.

Here are five critical steps organizations should take now to prepare for and prevent a crisis in the future. These crisis management measures will help your company navigate crises more capably and confidently.

  1. Assess your vulnerabilities: Few organizations invest the time necessary to take an honest, comprehensive look at the reputational threats they face. That’s why a vulnerability assessment—a thorough risk audit to determine areas of operational weakness and strength—is so critical. The evaluation involves in-depth, one-hour interviews with your company leadership and key stakeholders across various departments, asking critical questions like, “What keeps you up at night?” If weaknesses are defined, detected and prioritized early on, crises can be averted or mitigated. In these audits, every functional area of your company is examined to help anticipate and determine concerns that could lead to a significant interruption in business and/or reputational damage.
  1. Perform issues mapping and scenario planning: Using the insights gathered in the vulnerabilities audit, map out current and potential issues by likelihood and impact and start scenario planning to ensure your company is prepared. Set priorities by laying out difficult situations—highlighting the most likely and highest impact events at the top—and start developing mitigation efforts and response strategies that can be used to help diffuse them. By considering a variety of circumstances and aligning your tactics to desired outcomes, you’ll be better prepared to tackle whatever comes your way.
  1. Assemble your crisis response team: A strong, cross-functional crisis management team is essential to successfully navigating a crisis. The team is responsible for developing protocols and policies for identifying and classifying crisis situations, as well as coordinating and executing a response playbook in the event of an emergency. To start, recruit key stakeholders from different departments from across the organization—communications, legal, risk management, IT, etc.—to serve on the team and create a team charter. Assign individual roles and responsibilities so that when a crisis flares, everyone understands what to do and when to do it. Set up regular, recurring meetings to keep the team engaged and abreast of your organization’s latest issues and developments.
  1. Solidify your crisis communications plan: Once you’ve assessed the threats your company may face and determined how to respond and who will respond, it’s time to solidify your communications roadmap and materials. Create a simple crisis communications plan that anyone on your communications team can access and execute. Make sure internal and external structures and communication channels are in place to support sound decision making and facilitate effective response under fire. Host internal sessions to determine and develop processes and procedures for accessing and responding to crises. Tailor actions based on the severity of various crises and determine how you plan to activate and utilize the crisis response team.
  1. Conduct a training and/or simulation to test out protocols: A crisis response team needs practice to build muscle memory. Drills and exercises are the best way to test the plan’s efficiency and improve its effectiveness. Evaluating and practicing your response to various scenarios will provide your team with the knowledge and experience they need to react quickly and confidently when a real crisis hits. Practice also provides the opportunity to identify weaknesses and strengths, as well as needed improvements. Workshops, webinars, assessments and training sessions help your leadership, spokespeople and staff enhance their crisis response skills. Enlisting outside counsel can also help your team objectively determine what enhancements need to be made and identify specific strategic recommendations tailored to your organization.

The good news is that the vast majority of crises simmer before they boil. So, by taking these five steps today, you can significantly lower the risk of a reputational storm catching you by surprise tomorrow.