Managing a full blown corporate crisis is one of the hardest things a communicator will ever have to do. Of course, it’s always been vitally important to protect the profitability and reputation of your organization, but as scrutiny of corporate practice rises, so too does the importance attached to effective crisis management.
Failure to prevent or manage an incident can lead to a loss of your organization’s ‘license to operate’. Interestingly, your own personal brand can also be impacted by your response to a crisis – for instance, we’ve heard from several members that successfully managing a crisis instantly makes a communicator more employable, having navigated a course through heavy fire.
So, both for your organization and for you personally, a crisis raises the stakes like nothing else. With this in mind, CEC spent the last few months learning how the best organizations prevent, prepare for, and respond to major crises. CEC members can check out our new topic center for more detailed guidance, or call our advisory team to discuss your crisis planning.
Most companies have a contingency plan of some description should something go wrong. But actually using that crisis response plan is a bit like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted – by then, the damage is already done, and you’re playing a game of damage limitation instead of damage prevention.
What the best do: Employees often have the most practical understanding of the risks that the company faces by virtue of their day-to-day business activities. Instead of simply telling them how to behave and what to do, try to tap into their knowledge to identify and mitigate risks.
Featured Resource: Caterpillar seeks to identify barriers to risk-free behavior by asking their employees simple questions such as ‘What prevents you from working safely’. In doing so, they make their employees active participants in risk management, rather than simply the objects of communication related to risks.
We heard stories of crisis plans which might have been better described as crisis encyclopedias! Under duress, human decision making is simplified. Lengthy documents will be ignored, at best, or hinder action, at worst. Keep crisis planning simple and action-orientated.
What the best do: Create dynamic crisis systems that provide critical information and enable decision making in the moment and at speed. Any information provided to employees should be instructional, and help them take action.
Featured Resource: Timkin provides their employees with a clear framework that enables employees to assess the criticality of an incident, and escalate it to the right people.
Don’t fall into a state of paralysis or wait for unnecessary details before communicating. If you wait too long, you leave your critics the opportunity to set the agenda in discussing the event. The 24-hour news cycle often demands instant updates, as soon as possible.
What the best do: Remember that corporate messaging may not be stakeholders’ only (or even preferred!) source of information during a crisis. Find out where key conversations are taking place, and look for opportunities to influence stakeholders on their own terms.
Featured Resource: We canvassed a whole host of members to get their top tips for navigating a crisis, and compiled their collective expertise onto a single page: Guidance for Responding to Crises
Share your experiences
Have you managed a major crisis? What did you find most difficult? What did you learn? We’d love to hear from you!