By definition, a crisis creates an unstable and high pressure situation. In the moment, there are so many unknowns and you would give anything for a crystal ball to know how it will unfold.
While we would not recommend speculating, we have seen hundreds of crises and identified common patterns that have emerged in most incidents.
While we can’t say with complete certainty that these things will happen, knowing what is likely to happen can help you plan better and set expectations for your team:
- The news hits. Every incident starts with a moment when everything changes. The news will most likely trickle in from a social media post, a media inquiry, or an internal channel – so the leaders of those channels should always be on alert. From that moment on, the team will be in crisis mode.
- The scramble. Once a known crisis happens, plenty of people will lose their cool for a bit. There are generally two types of response: fight or flight. Some people will become clear headed and calm while others will become incapable of their normal activity. An exercise is a great way to predict this behavior. And, having a plan grounds the team because they have a clear direction and role. Its important to have a leader that orchestrates order in this moment.
- As more details emerge, the full picture of the crisis and the likelihood of the impact becomes clear. During this time, it is important to apply a crisis response plan – starting to communicate internally and/or externally depending on the situation. This is when many companies get themselves into trouble for not communicating soon enough. Or, communicating quickly with the wrong information or tone. It is difficult to communicate in this part of a crisis because there are a lot of unknowns, but there are plenty of things to say to demonstrate you are an aware, engaged, concerned, and responsible company.
- This is when the crisis hits its height. Up until now, it may have been eerily quiet at times – with a flurry of internal activity, but little to no external action. Now the phone is ringing off the hook with media and your company is trending on social media channels for all the wrong reasons. An activist may have started a protest or a blogger is speculating and spreading rumors.
- After about 48 hours, you have started to become yesterday’s news – both for social and traditional media. As things begin to slow down, there is still planning and follow-up work to do, but there is a reprieve from the chaos of full blown crisis mode.
This is common experience – something else will pop up about your company to reignite news cycle because now you are under the microscope. Or, if you have handled the situation poorly, your poor response becomes a secondary crisis. And the 48 hours begin all over again. Avoid this stage by keeping an eye out and handling the crisis well in the first place.
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In conclusion, handling a crisis effectively requires foresight, planning, and maintaining a calm demeanor under pressure.
The nature of crises is that they are unpredictable, yet, certain patterns emerge time and again: the initial shock, the scramble, the unfolding of details, the peak, the seeming respite, and sometimes, the re-ignition. Leaders must be equipped to steer their teams through each of these stages, communicating with the right tone, accuracy, and speed to avoid making the situation worse. Running crisis drills and having a well-established crisis response plan can help teams navigate these high-pressure situations more effectively.
However, it is crucial to remember that every crisis, even when it’s winding down, requires constant vigilance to prevent reignition.
Ultimately, navigating a crisis successfully is less about preventing the unexpected—because the unexpected is, by definition, unpredictable—and more about managing the response to it.
Want to work with us or learn more about Crisis Playbook?
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- Our Ultimate Guide to Crisis Management contains everything you need to know about Crisis Management.
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