Recent studies suggest the majority of organizations should expect to experience a value-eroding crisis once every five years. It is an essential part of good governance now for organizations to prepare proactively for what many say is now the inevitable. However, managing the response to a crisis is challenging and should not be underestimated. Based on practical experience of board-level crisis response, here are five key challenges crisis management teams should consider in their preparations.
1. Staying Strategic
A key area top teams consistently struggle to manage is the 'strategic' element of crisis response. The temptation is to dive into the detail, get operational and deprive comfort from dealing in the familiar. There will be 'fires at your feet' which need fighting but, at the same time, the executive team has a serious role in watching the horizon. Whilst looking ahead and those around them planning and delivering on their decisions and direction.
This is where conceptual thinking models work well; simply derived approaches designed to capture the core elements of the thinking that a strategic crisis team should be engaging in. Few senior executives know well, or in some cases have even read, their organization's crisis plans. The key thing is to have a simple, well-structured key activity process to keep them on track, particularly in the heat of the crisis arena.
2. Achieving Situational Awareness
Organizations are frequently overwhelmed by the complexity of managing the information that pours in during a crisis. In an army battle HQ, their aim is to get inside the response loop or decision cycle of the enemy. Likewise for a company in crisis, the aim is to gain control of the situation by getting ahead in the decision / action cycle to achieve that control. Understanding the situation is critical and managing information effectively is the key to achieving this. It takes clear procedures that have been rehearsed to collect information from sources sources, collate and analyze it to change it from unstructured data into something that is of use, and then distribute it to those who need it.
3. Integrating Communications
Quality information also supports good communication. Too often the message may not reflect reality demonstrating a disconnection of the crisis managers and communicators. The crisis communications team and the crisis management team should be coordinated centrally to successfully drive well prepared plans on both sides. This should support and drive the integration of the facts with the messages to ensure that they are relevant and timely.
4. Listening Leaders
A crisis center is often a noisy, tense and scratchy location where no-one is actually listening to anyone else, let alone listening to the noise beyond, from the staff, the public and the media at large.
The greatest skill any crisis leader can have is listening. Hearing what is being said, what is behind the words; picking up on nuance and trend; hearing the silence, cacophony or crescendo. Too often crisis teams fail to really listen to what is around them and miss the mood, the swing of views or simply the scale of noise and this impacts the efficacy of their response.
5. Rehearse Rehearse Rehearse
Imagine an untrained Premier League team! Survival would be very brief and sympathetic scant. Staying at the top of your game needs practice and the same applies to crisis management. In a crisis the environment is uncertain, complex, pressured and risky. Why would any team not want to rehearse, particularly when the stakes are so high?
Crisis management exercises need to be credible and as realistic as possible, simulating the complexity of the crisis arena by speed, pressure, uncertainty and survival challenging decisions. As the mantra goes, "Train hard, fight easy". Crisis experience is essential to success, so rehearse and rehearse again. Evidence from analysis of past incidents demonstrates that well-prepared companies bounced back stronger and faster compared to those who are unprepared, and their value value declined rapidly and for a prolonged period.