You’ve probably heard from us, and elsewhere, that every organization should develop and continually revise a crisis management plan, which they should also exercise regularly. But why? Because listing procedures and blindly walking through them can only get you so far. To benefit, you need to get into your marrow your approach to crises and disasters.
We’ve written recently about crisis management plans and how you can conduct meaningful—and interesting–crisis management exercises. But you also need to understand why you should bother and that means talking about your crisis management framework.
The Goal of a Crisis Management Framework
As you build your crisis management tools, you need an underlying philosophy, a framework that will make all the crisis management parts work together. A consistent framework across your organization describes how you will make, communicate, and execute decisions. Think about your governing approach now–a crisis is no time for confusion or making things up on the spot. Crisis management aims to plan for an effective coordinated response, with the resources available, and internal and external communication requirements during and after the crisis.
Everyone– teams and top leadership — needs to know what to do or they make mistakes that make matters worse. An established framework also ensures that executives can expect a consistent process and communications no matter the crisis. Should a crisis morph and pull in additional teams, everyone approaches crisis management from the same starting point with the same goals.
Basic Considerations for a Crisis Management Framework
To start building your framework, consider your organization’s mission and vision statements. Everyone in your organization needs these values as the foundation for every crisis management activity.
When Is It a Crisis?
A primary consideration is what constitutes a crisis and who declares it. Crises often start as minor problems in a functional area. Often functional groups can contain and solve issues before they expand. If not, a crisis team may step in, and they may solve the problem. The executive usually is not involved in localized events. If units can’t contain an issue, you need to notify your executive. But you need to decide beforehand what the triggers are to escalate. Create a hierarchy for escalation and determine who has decision-making authority. Delegating authority must be clear. Decide at the planning stage when you inform the CEO and the board. Depending on how flat your company hierarchy is, in some companies, the CEO may already be directly involved.
Determine Battle Rhythm in your Crisis Management Framework
A battle rhythm is a schedule that frames response activities, such as internal and external reports, status meetings, and even meeting length. It supports the crisis team in issuing regular updates, even in rapidly-changing situations. Battle rhythm ensures that teams address essential tasks, disseminate information, and use meeting time fruitfully despite any “noise” teams may experience. A battle rhythm also ensures that teams understand when they will have to report status – and helps other stakeholders know when the next update is coming.
Before anything else, you need to create a crisis management team with clearly defined roles and responsibilities and escalation pathways to senior executives. Gather the team and assign roles before you start discussing crisis management measures. Make the team cross-functional so you have expertise from all your critical functional areas. Examples include business continuity, risk management, legal, and other representatives. You then define who is responsible for what aspects of the plan, who makes decisions, and who communicates decisions internally and externally. Your crisis management team will co-create the plan.
The Crisis Team Leader
The crisis team leader’s sole responsibility is managing a crisis response process and making decisions on the spot. Also called the Incident Leader or Crisis Leader, the crisis team leader should not be an executive. The executive is busy making strategic decisions for the business and communicating with the company and as needed. In addition, in case of corporate malfeasance, you need an unassailable and neutral crisis leader who is outside the C-suite.
Communications in a Crisis Management Framework
We can’t stress enough how important good communications are in a crisis, both internally and externally. Internal communication is often forgotten but critical to supporting employees, removing stress, and reducing demoralizing gossip. You need to collect accurate information and share it across the company and up to the C-suite. Define your internal messaging policy, and define who will be the single voice communicating your message. Understand before an emergency what channel each stakeholder requires.
To communicate externally, designate someone or a team to communicate a unified clear message to the media. Avoid gossip and mixed messages. Consider retaining a third-party organization to help with communication. Engage outside consultants if communication becomes complicated.
Consistent Message, Look, and Timings Across Your Organization
Although the type of crisis will dictate the tactical response, the overall response and communications should be consistent. Creating templates ahead of time can bring uniformity to these areas:
- Timing and types of communication
Consistency makes a company look professional and in control to the outside world. But it has benefits within the company, too. The CEO and other executives should know to expect certain information at certain times. They also need to understand no matter the crisis what is expected of them.
Levels of Response
Not every incident requires the same level of response. Your escalation protocol will determine the triggers for activating different responses and what those responses include. For example, when human safety is imperiled, you need an immediate response team to address physical injuries or fatalities.
What resources do you need during a crisis and how will you maintain them? Resources are whatever you use in your regular workday and includes pens, paper, laptops, internet drops, coffee and cups, and third-party support, such as legal advisors. What essential documents do you need access to? Think contracts, employee rosters, insurance plans, SOPs and more. Plan for main facilities being unusable. Consider finding secondary suppliers for critical items. Also, plan for supplies for your alternate. How will you support your executive and staff if the area is evacuated? Some companies make arrangements ahead of time to house leadership in a safe area.
Keep everyone’s skills fresh and maintain muscle memory by exercising your crisis management plan regularly. Stay current with new threats and risks. And, update your plans and responses to reflect changes in the company.
As you embark on your crisis management framework journey, your industry business continuity guidelines and applicable regulatory requirements can assist you in thinking about critical continuity measures. And, of course, Bryghtpath is always here to support you in your crisis management discussions.