What are your organization’s plans for recovering from a natural disaster? Are plans, people, and resources in place to protect your people and restore your business to normal? Effective crisis management is the key. CEOs need to recognize the difference between what looks fine on paper and how crisis management planning fits into the big picture of business continuity and resiliency.
Essentially, a leader of an organization going through a crisis should look for the following indicators and measurements:
- A fast-moving, rapid-response-oriented process: Fast response is a process involving both damage control and mitigation. That response cannot occur without a plan in place as well as qualified and dedicated people to carry out the plan.
- Clearly defined roles and responsibilities: The organization must have subject matter and technical experts whose authority matches their responsibilities in reacting to crises.
- Strong cross-functional coordination – all major business lines & support functions have a seat at the table: Reaction to a crisis has no room for turf battles or silos of proprietary information. Coordination and collaboration must occur both in crisis management planning and during the time of the actual crisis.
- Pre-defined decision-making rights/authority: Those authority definitions are vital and must be delineated in advance.
- A clear path of escalation for decisions to executives and the board: Certain strategic decisions could be beyond the authority of a crisis team. The path to executive decisions must be open and clearly defined.
- A single source of internal and authentic information that is published with regular updates: Public information policies and information release authority need to be spelled out and within the responsibility of a qualified individual.
- Planned and pre-positioned communication products, messages, and templates are ready. Those products could be anything from model press releases, internal company messaging, or formal outreach to suppliers and customers.
- A knowledgeable, effective, and well-organized crisis management team ready to convene, react, and resolve the crisis quickly. The team must be led by a trained incident leader and assisted by a professional crisis management staff or consultant.
The Basics of Crisis Management Planning
Each of the foregoing indicators would be the result of a well-crafted crisis management plan. Crisis management is defined as the steps an organization performs to deal with a catastrophic event. The crisis could hurt people, cause damage to the organization’s reputation, and impact the organization’s income stream or financial condition. Regardless of its cause, the crisis is real and present and must be dealt with quickly and decisively.
Assessing what can go wrong
Effective crisis management is an important element of a business continuity & crisis management program. A subset of business continuity planning is a formal business impact analysis (BIA). A BIA assesses how a disaster would impact an organization’s ability to continue its vital functions. It is essentially a risk assessment. It identifies natural hazards, like fire, flooding, and tornadoes, and clearly states what those impacts would be on the business.
A BIA focuses on the most important things an organization does to stay in business. Mistakes happen and calamities occur, but a well-crafted BIA can focus on which business functions can be set aside and what activities must continue to keep the business going.
Note: The BIA has residual benefits. It can identify inefficiencies and redundancies and be a basis for improvement and strengthening. Learn more about the Business Impact Analysis in our article What is a Business Impact Analysis (BIA)?.
You need a plan
With a strong BIA, your organization is ahead of the power curve in preparing your business continuity & crisis management plans. A generic crisis response template might look good on paper, but what the organization needs is a plan tailored to the mission and goals of the organization.
The 5 most important elements of a crisis management plan are:
1. Clear guidelines on when to activate the plan
Not every incident escalates to the level of crisis. The crisis plan should give everyone the tools and information needed to determine whether some event is or has the potential to be a crisis. The plan should actually define a crisis and include specific scenarios. It should define specific business impacts that are considered when to determine the level of the incident.
2. A detailed action plan
Those plans are essentially a crisis management checklist. The list is a result of collaboration across the company organization to ensure that nothing gets overlooked. Again, roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined. The tasks need to be time-limited, prioritized, and designate clear ownership for each item on the list.
3. A crisis communication and messaging strategy approved in advanced
An important part of a fast-moving crisis management plan is how consistent, timely, and effectively the organization keeps everyone inside and outside the organization informed. The pre-approved communications range from first response statements to frequently asked questions. Again, they must be prepared in advanced as templates and quickly accessible resources.
4. Contact lists that are thorough and complete
When quick reaction time is a priority, important contact information must be readily available. The contact information will be crisis management team members, key people who can mitigate or repair damage to the business premises, as well as any key vendors, consultants, or experts who could assist in mitigating the crisis.
5. A listing of all additional resources and material
This part of the crisis management plan lists everything that could assist in reacting to the emergency.
The resource list could consist of timelines, decision flow charts, IT access credentials and disaster recovery plans, or anything else that could prevent delays in proactive reaction to a crisis.
Source: 5 “Must Include” Items for your Crisis Management Plan, by Melissa Agnes
You need a crisis management team
A professional crisis management team is typically led by a trained incident leader and is a team of cross-functional business leaders. Department leaders, organization legal experts, subject matter experts, and individuals from across the organization who assisted in drafting the aforementioned BIA should have a seat at the table.
Essentially, an effective crisis management team is a combination of people, tools, and organizational structure aligned with a common mindset and goals regardless of their position in the organization. They are trained and can recognize the threats that can lead to crises. Most of all they are disciplined and can stay on message when the going gets rough.
The characteristics of a successful crisis management team are:
- The team has the full support of senior management and is empowered to act.
- The team is proactive and not afraid to move decisively during a crisis.
- The team operates on the basis of leadership and technical competence. Egos and titles take a back seat.
- The team understands its roles and stays abreast of conditions that can endanger the business.
- The team is scalable and can come together in organizational combinations according to the threat or crisis.
- The team practices and trains regularly—at least once per year and more often for shorter, more frequent exercises.
- The team uses a standardized decision-making process and includes the process in table-top drills and other practice scenarios.
Bringing it all together with a crisis management professional
Employing a crisis management professional brings a qualified overall coordinator and leader into the process.
Look for the following qualities in a crisis management consultant or outsourced provider.
- knows the business and can get to the heart of resolving the crisis quickly
- is committed to the organization and is a creative thinker/problem solver
- can navigate across the organization and develop strong relationships with key people
- is an excellent communicator, who can speak to people at all levels of the organization
- is an excellent facilitator; during the crisis keeps all discussions relevant and to the point.
- ensures that each business unit has its business continuity plan and assists in exercising those plans
- understands the priority areas of the business that need to be restored instantly and in what sequence
- is confident and self-assured during crisis situations and has open access to key executives when decisions must be bumped up the organization
- displays decisive and thoughtful leadership; is calm and positive, displaying a level-headed approach to meeting critical timelines
- is situationally aware and stays current with outside situations that can affect recovery during a crisis.
Crisis management ought not be left to chance. You need a professional to help develop the plan and make sure it can be implemented throughout your organization. Bryghtpath can be your outsourced professional for crisis management.
We have the ready-made, battle-tested crisis management and communications plans you need for smaller organizations as well at Crisis Playbook.
Want to learn more?
Learn about our approach to Crisis Management in our Ultimate Guide to Crisis Management.
Contact us and we’ll show you our tailored approach to improve your organization’s resilience through effective Crisis Management.