Some crises are sudden and explosive, and some can be seen materialising from a distance, yet can’t be stopped for various reasons. No series on crisis management is complete without at least a word on the most effective way to manage a crisis: prevent it from happening in the first place.
To be sure, most crises are taken for granted, usually in larger organisations where the gravity of the situation may be lost on the collective. Possibly, even when the intent is right, not enough is done for actually preventing them; too much collective energy is poured into the clean-up and salvage operation.
Every organisation, small or big, must have one eye peeled constantly for dust specks of a potential crisis before they morph into a full-blown storm.
If it’s too late for preventative action, and the you-know-what has hit the fan, what do you do?
Managing the crisis you saw coming but were powerless to prevent:
1. Let strict laws be set around privacy and discretion from the beginning. Information should be handed out on a “need-to-know” basis to plug leaks before they happen. 2. According to well-known management consultant Steven Fink, everyone in a position of authority should view and plan for the inevitability of a crisis “in much the same way one views and plans for the inevitability of death and taxes: not out of weakness or fear, but out of the strength that comes from knowing you are prepared to…play the hand that fate deals you.”
This means data back-ups, background checks, due diligence, evacuation drills and disaster-proof communication networks. 3. Establish solid relationships during “peacetime” with people you will need on ground during a crisis. 4. Recognise that failing to contain any kind of fault: product, personnel, technical, etc. will result in the company having a PR and image crisis on its hands. Take rapid steps to contain the crisis and help any people impacted as a result, to retain goodwill and credibility. 5. Any investigation into the origins of a crisis and how it played out should be conducted by third-party, objective people with no vested interest other than delivering the facts. 6. Don’t balk at making tough, timely decisions. Do what you can to resolve the crisis fast.
When we look at why some crises cause far more damage that others, it usually comes back to how quickly and efficiently it was handled from the very beginning. With the current Coronavirus crisis looming large, some businesses are scrambling for cover while others are out there and ready to face the world. Many of these companies are conducting mock drills even before their place of operation is hit by the almost-pandemic and some have asked their employees to conduct ‘fake work-from-home’ days to iron out difficulties if any.
“First, state clearly that you do not know all the facts. Then promptly state the facts you do know. One’s objective should be to get it right, get it quick, get it out, and get it over. You see, your problem won’t improve with age.”
Warren Buffet quoted in Harvard Business Review Keep an eye out for our next feature on more examples of companies doing right by their people, and their business, during a crisis.