Going beyond immediate knee-jerk responses to having a planned, coordinated approach to crises is the sign of a modern and mature organization. To plan for a crisis means a company is aware of potential risks and ready to respond in a coordinated manner.
The best organizations are experts at proactively mitigating issues to prevent crises in the first place. Many top companies have potential crises emerge on a daily basis but have the right tools, protocols, and people in place to address the concerns before it ever becomes public knowledge.
For communications, maturity means a firm understanding of reputation risks, a core team of crisis responders, and coordination with the teams that hear about risks bubbling first.
Here are the essentials to create this level of crisis response maturity in your organization:
Identify and plan for risks. Know what issues would have the greatest potential to impact profits and reputation and which of those is your business is most susceptible to. What would break your customer’s trust? Rank them by severity and focus on the top first, working down the list as your organization matures. Create crisis plans for your top risks so that your team can respond quickly. Exercising these plans is the best way to test them.
Monitor. In order to know how to get ahead of an issue, you have to know that the concern exists. Your best ears are often tools you already have in place – they just need to be coordinated:
- Customer or patient call-in line. Companies that work directly with consumers usually have some way for concerns to be shared. Work with the call center to identify a central crisis contact, share top issues, and develop thresholds for escalation. If they receive a handful of calls about a top risk, someone should be calling the lead communications responder.
- Social media. These are ways to assess a company’s reputation, any recent changes, and to learn about bubbling concerns. Work with the social media team to share top issues or concern, explain the effort to create a coordinated response, and develop thresholds for escalation. For example, if they notice over thirty messages expressing concern about an incident or policy, it is time to notify the lead crisis communicator.
- Corporate / Global Security. The team that is responsible for security may be the first to be notified of any threat. So it is important to work hand in hand with them to create the thresholds for monitoring and to clarify wish issues should be escalated by whom. In the best case scenario, security and communications have a very strong partnership, level of trust, and process for engaging each other.
- Human resources. Your HR team is likely already doing some sort of risk assessment on individuals that pose a threat to the organization. Those let go that seemed to harbor unusual angst, someone that made threatening comments, or an employee may have reported a restraining order against a person of concern that knows their work location. Work with HR to determine a threshold, such as an active threat, to notify communications and security.
- Product concerns. If your company makes or sells products, there is likely a call-in number, email, or team that works on addressing product concerns. Work with the team to develop a threshold or when to engage the crisis communications team. An example of a good threshold is if the product poses a threat of death or bodily hard. If your company produces and sells food, this falls under that same category – and major food recall that could cause severe illness or death should be immediately escalated.
- Others, depending on your business: IT (for information security or data breach issues), legal, government affairs, regulatory affairs, global/international affairs. This is where customization comes in depending on your business model. For some companies, this may also mean partners outside of the company.
Mitigate. Get ahead of the issues and prevent where possible. Whether its increased security efforts, changes to corporate policies, or reaching out to concerned customers early on to address the issue. Be an advocate for changes that will prevent an issue in the first place if you identify something that seems off.
Investigate as needed. Some issues will require some digging to determine if it is accurate, discover the root cause, and discover how to respond. The lead communicator should work within the business units to get the right answers and advise on the response. The direction of an investigation can vary widely, but consider these as appropriate:
- Benchmarking peer companies
- Checking the validity of a person or non-governmental organization (NGO) making a claim/protesting
- Running the legality of the situation and any legal parameters by your legal team
- If the issue pertains to a current or past employee(s), partner with HR to get the facts
- Identify any regulatory organization that should be looped in or used as a resource (e.g. Securities & Exchange Commission, the National Transportation Safety Board, or the Food & Drug Administration).
Tone. One thing to think about and plans for is tone. Think about the issue in a worst-case scenario. If there was a real threat to safety or health, the tone should include remorse and empathy. If actual death or injury occurred, you’ll need to work with legal to prevent accepting fault, but the tone should express deep sympathy and sadness for loss or harm to anyone. If facts are still very unclear and there may be false play, it is ok to be more guarded and neutral toned. Your communications team can create a guide for this in advance to help with creating a response more quickly.
Responses and Assessment. By being better prepared, you should have the right information to respond appropriately and in a timely manner. For example, read about the tactics that we talked about in our Crisis Communications 101 article.
Depending on the issue, the initial response may be one step of many or your response may snuff out the concern before it becomes something more. This can vary significantly depending on the scenario. After the issue has passed, assess what was learned and capture improvements needed to your crisis plans and response process.
There is a lot a company can do before responding to a crisis. And there is even more that can be done in anticipation of what crisis could occur. Once a process is in place – where teams have clear risks and protocols for escalation, it will become clear where improvements need to be made and where things are working well.
A great first step to do this year is identifying your risks and the few core partners internally needed to create this process and start testing it out. Once an organization can respond to one issue in a coordinated way, the protocols are in place to respond to other risks as well.
Can we help you?
Building an effective crisis management process that incorporates crisis management, crisis communications, and other functions within your firm is what we do here at Bryghtpath.
Bryghtpath has built crisis management plans and frameworks for many Fortune 500 organizations, non-profits, and public sector agencies. Our firm has more than a century of experience in developing actionable plans to help prepare organizations for the unexpected. Our expertise includes crisis communications and emergency plans/exercises.
Contact us today at +1.612.235.6435 or via our contact form.