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This article was published 7/9/2019 (411 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Crisis? What crisis?
Many years ago, the classic rock band Supertramp released the album Crisis? What Crisis? The album cover featured a picture of a man relaxing in a lawn chair with a beverage in hand, while surrounded by a city in ruins. He was either well-prepared, or simply ignoring the situation around him.
When it comes to a corporate crisis, I urge you to consider the "being well-prepared" approach rather than the "if I ignore it, maybe it will go away" approach. Obviously, in a perfect world, the best way to avoid a crisis is to ensure that you run your business with no safety or operational incidents, and all your staff, suppliers and customers get along just fine. The reality is that there are many possible events that can trigger a crisis. Therefore, you need to have a plan on how you will react when the inevitable occurs.
I am not just referring to preparing for a major event, such as the famous "Tylenol scare" of 1982, where several Chicago residents died after ingesting Tylenol pills laced with cyanide.
Most importantly, the company took immediate steps to remove Tylenol from the shelves of retailers across the country. Its approach was customer safety first and foremost. The way that the president of Johnson & Johnson responded in his communication still serves as the gold standard for how businesses should respond when a crisis occurs because he was fast, prepared and knew exactly what actions the company was going to take.
When preparing a disaster plan for your organization, there are two main components to be considered — the operational plan and the crisis-communications plan. The operational plan describes the detailed, step-by-step actions to activate when a disaster or significant business disruption occurs. Every department must be part of the plan. Key staff are identified to have responsibility for their area. Someone must be designated as the lead for each department that delegates the actual tasks.
The operational plan should be developed and practised so that it can be activated when needed. This initially involves tabletop exercises, which allow business leaders and staff to review response plans and responsibilities and identify holes or gaps. Later, more realistic disaster drills can be used to further test the team’s preparedness. After running each exercise, you need to assess what went well and where there were gaps in response. Further training or adjustments to the plan will make your response sharper for the next test or an actual event.
The second component is the crisis-communication plan. Having your communications people participate in disaster tabletop exercises should allow them to understand the different disaster scenarios the organization may encounter and prepare an appropriate crisis-communication plan that outlines various communications responsibilities for each messaging platform such as your website, social media, media relations and so on. Depending on the severity of the incident, there may be little time to react before the media calls. Having some general messaging prepared in advance can take some of the pressure off your communications and operations staff as they struggle to gather information. The key is to share factual information only and early, and to update it as regularly as required.
Your company should also have a designated spokesperson who can respond to media inquiries. Depending on the size of your organization, this could be a senior executive who may also be part of the crisis-management team. Again, practice exercises and drills can help determine who is best suited to fill the spokesperson role. Once determined, the spokesperson should be ready to provide information and respond to difficult questions from reporters. "Live-fire" media-training sessions — including mock press conferences — will provide your spokesperson with confidence if an event occurs.
Safety of people and managing the spread of a crisis are the primary goals in any disaster plan. Then it is the recovery and restarting of the business. For example, if your customer-billing system is mission-critical for service delivery or customer contact, then you should have a duplicate off-site setup that is ready to be engaged quickly.
Ongoing communication with your customers, suppliers and employees keeps people up to date on the status of the company and instils confidence in the organization, that it can be trusted to do the right things. Staying in control when the world around you seems to be out of control is the reason you develop a disaster plan.
Tim’s bits: Nobody wants to experience the worst-case scenario. However, when you plan for the most devastating event, you will be more confident that anything less than the worst can be handled with more clarity and relative ease. Hard work and deep thinking are essential as you build your plan. And testing it each year keeps you ready for any potential crisis event.
Tim Kist, CMC, a certified management consultant by law, works with organizations to improve their overall performance by being truly customer-focused.
Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.
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