Any organization, no matter its size, can encounter a problem that requires crisis management. A crisis is something that threatens or hurts people and property, with potential to damage the organization’s reputation, disrupt operations and affect the bottom line.
In a crisis, it’s important to respond quickly yet properly. Sometimes, how people inside and outside your organization react to something that is said or done can determine whether a problem becomes a full-blown crisis.
Of course, some crises are obvious – accidents or bad products that cause injuries or fatalities, for example. A crisis might evolve from an oversight or irresponsible decision, making the organization appear inept or, worse, criminally negligent. Some crises result from something outside your control, such as a disgruntled employee who spreads falsehoods; a social media hack or rant; or a data breach.
You can’t change what happened, but you can take control to help shape the outcome.
Anticipate crises by identifying risks that are specific to your organization. Name team members who would respond in a crisis, and train them to gather and disseminate information properly.
Prepare an action plan to keep operations and communications from breaking down. This plan should include a social media policy that prohibits staff members from venting or arguing online.
Don’t react without adequate information. Identify who will speak for the organization, so that no one says the wrong thing.
It’s important to acknowledge a crisis. In some cases, an apology might be necessary.
Your legal team might not want you to shoulder blame, but you can still deal with a problem head-on and be accountable. This helps to minimize drama and resolve matters more quickly.
Your team’s crisis plan should include prepared statements that could apply to any situation for immediate response:
- “We have activated our Crisis Response Team, and we will share information as soon as it becomes available.”
- “We know that individuals and families are hurting, and our hearts and minds are with them at this difficult time.”
- “We understand the urgency of this situation and we ask for your patience. Right now the health and safety of our (employees/customers) is our top priority.”
- “We have nothing new to report at this time, but we are working to learn the facts and will supply information as soon as we can.”
Reach out to employees and other stakeholders, including the media.
Who needs to know what’s happening, internally and externally? The messages and how often your team conveys them may vary by audience. If the crisis involves an accident, you may need to identify places to gather families and the media, to keep them separate.
Technology can help track down executives and others who need information immediately, via automatic calling or texting, and allow them to confirm they received the message.
Problems don’t resolve themselves, and storms don’t pass quickly in today’s social media-oriented society. Misinformation can spread, compounding a crisis. Reach out to those affected – by phone call, text message, emails, or in person, as necessary. Let people know you care, even if you can’t tell them anything substantive immediately. Keep your cool online, on camera and in public. Be respectful – including with those who will share your story.
A debriefing after a crisis is as important as preparing for one.
- What did your organization learn from what happened?
- Do you need to change any organizational policies?
- Do your notification and monitoring systems need tweaking?
- Are there employees, clients, vendors, investors, donors or others who need longer-term reassurance as a result of what happened?
Be sure to thank your crisis response team for their hard work. Review with them what went right and what went wrong, including things beyond their control. This way, you can improve everyone’s crisis management skills.
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