Crisis Management is 70% Internal and 30% External
The ability to plan for adversities that seem unlikely and improbable is a challenge for businesses and corporations. With any luck, a crisis management plan will be a documented, trained, and ready to implement set of procedures that the corporation will never have to put into action until an anomalous event occurs that threatens operational continuity. However, when it is needed, a crisis management plan is an essential tool, helping businesses return to operational norms as quickly as possible.
When organizations think about crisis management, their focus is almost exclusively external. They are worried about how reporters will cover the story or what they might say to upset customers.
The reality is if leaders spent more time focused on the internal aspects of crisis management, their ability to respond externally would improve dramatically.
In crisis management, the name of the game is speed. The faster a crisis team can get ahead of the issue; the less damage will be caused to the company. Speed is based on three factors: the flow of information inside the company, the internal processes that drive decisions, and trust.
A supply of information
Lack of information is the number one reason companies choose not to respond rapidly. It’s true that sometimes critical information is not available, but far too often it’s discovered after the fact that a key piece of information was blocked by a senior manager afraid to share bad news. How many times has a spokesperson learned of a disaster from the media and not their own company? Information plays a critical role in determining the strategic direction leaders choose to address an issue. If the flow is slow, so too will be the response.
Having a process in place
One way to improve the flow of communication is to fine-tune internal processes that drive decision-making. During tabletop exercises, you can measure how team dynamics impact a company’s ability to respond.
Dysfunction within a team is a direct result of a lack of process and understanding of how that process works. Without that understanding, meetings become a free-for-all with differing opinions and paralyzing indecision. Team structure, clear roles and responsibilities, and simple protocols are all effective tools to manage the chaos. If internal teams aren’t clear on their roles and responsibilities — and if they can’t immediately get to work to address the issues without direction — the company’s ability to respond effectively will suffer.
Trust is at the heart of every issue. Do I trust this person or this company to do what they say they will do? Trust can’t be earned on the outside if there isn’t trust on the inside. I constantly have to remind my clients to focus more on their employees in the midst of a crisis than any other audience. Employees are brand ambassadors who foster the relationship a company has with each target audience. A relationship without trust is bound to fail.
The first 24 hours of a crisis often determine how the entire issue will be resolved. Organizations that have strong processes in place that enable information to flow freely and have established trust within the team will simply respond better. When speaking with executives, trust is the core issue. They either question the data provided to them by their internal partners, or they question whether their key audiences will trust that they have the situation under control.