Ready for your next crisis? If not, here’s a plan

Friday, February 12, 2016, Vol. 40, No. 7

You likely haven’t gotten to where you are today with a “head-in-the-sand” approach to managing your business.

But when it comes to crisis communications, many busy executives neglect to plan against all that could go wrong.

Failure to handle a crisis effectively thwarts even the best-managed efforts to grow and create goodwill toward your organization.

Crises occur in many different varieties. They’re not all as big and obvious as a massive recall, a record-setting natural disaster or a public frenzy over alleged bad behavior.

To complicate things further, you don’t get to decide what becomes a crisis. Your stakeholders do.

There are ways to minimize damage. The greatest vulnerabilities in crisis communications exist in a lack of planning, an unpracticed response protocol and the inability or unwillingness to communicate quickly and effectively to stakeholders.

The goal in crisis communications is to protect and defend from interrupted operations, a tarnished reputation and a major disruption to the bottom line.

Like any crucial business process, effective crisis communications begins well in advance of ever having to use it. Take these initial actions to reduce your risk and get closer to protecting your organization from harm.

Anticipate and Predict: Hold a focused brainstorm session with your key players to talk through both natural and man-made threats that pose risk to your organization. This exercise alone may help you uncover easy or obvious fixes.

Plan: Make big-picture decisions about response protocol ahead of time, knowing that the step of customizing the response to a specific crisis will take place in the moment. Make advanced connections with key authorities, such as emergency management and law enforcement.

Communicate: Have a short list of crisis spokespeople identified and notified. The chief executive should always be part of this list, but is not always the right answer for every crisis. You need a versatile, practiced spokesperson pool. Have key communication channels well managed at all times, as the acceptable response time in a crisis is short.

Train: Communicate and practice your planned responses and messages internally. The chain of command needs to be tested. Employees need to be made aware of the crisis plan, and front-line staff needs to participate in training. The time to test effectiveness is not during the crisis itself.

Learn: Synthesize the cause and effect of any crisis you weather, or use your practice scenario as a chance to glean important lessons.

What you learn about your organization, people and ability to respond to crisis together begins the next cycle of anticipating and planning against whatever may go wrong.

Don’t think it can’t happen to you. It can. But you can be ready for it when it does.

Catherine (Kitty) Taylor, marketing director for RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy, can be reached at