A business can experience several types of crisis ranging from data breaches to executive misconduct. The goal of crisis management is to have a system in place to effectively address the coordinated response, resources, and internal and external communication requirements during and after the negative situation. How you accomplish these tasks will impact your corporate reputation and recovery.
Crisis planning is based on reasonable challenges your company may face and you need to identify those events that are most likely to occur in order to develop appropriate responses. All business are at risk of data breaches, customer service problems and loss of competitive advantages. There are also the risks inherent to specific types of businesses such manufacturing, retail and service. Review your business practices and past problems. Identify those issues that would severely damage your organization and have a plan in place to address them. Keep in mind that you may need different protocols to address various scenarios.
Confusion is your biggest enemy during a crisis. If your people do not have a clear plan of leadership and action, mistakes are made that can exacerbate the situation. You need to identify who will be responsible for what actions and communicate this with your staff. Assignments should include:
- Immediate response team where there are physical injuries or death. This is often a medical team and identifying people responsible for contacting emergency services.
- Immediate response team to critical mechanical or operational failures. Often plant managers or others who oversee various aspects of production.
- Internal communication liaison who is responsible for collecting and disseminating accurate information, as well as necessary updates, to those in leadership positions.
- External communication liaison who is responsible for responding to media requests, monitoring and managing social media exchanges, and crafting a unified statement.
- Post-crisis team. After the initial incident has occurred, ongoing crisis management activities will continue until everything is resolved. The members of this team will depend on the issues raised by the incident, i.e. legal, health and safety, marketing, etc.
The goal of the crisis management system is to be able to respond quickly and effectively so you need to have a coordinated plan in place. Working with a crisis consultant with expertise in response issues is the best way to assure that you have everything you need when you need it.
During a crisis, you don’t want people scrambling for the necessary resources to resolve the problem. Instead, identify backup plans for specific scenarios which will allow your company to continue operations despite the crisis. If your building is leveled by a tornado or a vendor no longer provides a component of your product, you need to identify resource options that you can access to minimize the long term effects the crisis will have on your business.
This issue is always a challenge and one that is exacerbated by the explosion of social media usage and options. Whether you are addressing internal or external crisis communications, you must:
- Limit communication to pre-identified personnel. This avoids sending mixed messages or sharing gossip as information.
- Implement strict social media engagement rules. Your employees should already know the corporate rules regarding prohibitions on sharing business information on social media, with specific consequences for violation of these rules. During a crisis, it is important to remind them of these rules to protect the company and the employees themselves.
- Craft a message that reflects corporate values and disseminate through appropriate media and social media channels.
- Use all resources available. During a crisis emotions run high and often your best choice is to allow a crisis consulting firm to manage communication issues, at least behind the scenes. These experts understand the challenges you face and how to address them in a professional and factual manner.
This level of crisis communication is often ignored or minimized on crisis management planning but it is vital to the success of the process. Internal communication is important because it:
- Provides employees with accurate information;
- Relieves employee anxiety and stress;
- Reinforces corporate policies on social media and other non-authorized communication;
- Disseminates the corporate message of the crisis; and
- Involves employees as ambassadors of the company, turning them into a crisis management asset.
Internal crisis communication begins with the management plan and must be disseminated to staff as part of their orientation and ongoing training to assure that they understand the process before an event occurs. They should know what is expected of them in a crisis and what they can expect from the company in terms of communication, leadership, and crisis management systems.
Whether you have a serious delivery delay due to production problems or executives are under investigation for insider trading, you need to share information with the public about the situation. Social media has made external communication processes more challenging and you need to have a plan that includes these platforms.
Reputation management is at the heart of external crisis communication and the best way to address the challenges is to:
- Respond thoughtfully rather than react emotionally;
- Identify one spokesperson for the event and deliver all external communications through that person;
- Have an immediate response communication team identified in the event of a crisis that involves loss of life or significant injuries;
- Monitor social media and provide factual updates if appropriate;
- Use pre-selected communication channels to inform stakeholders such as key clients, corporate sponsors, etc. about the crisis and its potential impact; and
- Provide updates as the situation evolves unless advised otherwise by legal counsel.
External communication is one of the most challenging aspects of the crisis management process. Working with a crisis consulting resource to assist with the effort gives you the best chance of success.
Successful crisis management begins with identifying possible negative events and creating a plan for response, resources, and communication. The goal is to be effective in managing all aspects of the crisis to assure the long-term success of your business. Crisis planning and disaster preparedness are needed for any type of business and expert crisis management consultants can serve as excellent resources as you develop and implement your plan.
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