By Francisco Mateo
The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity
-John F. Kennedy
All efficient crisis management requires an effective, multi-disciplinary team of professionals to deal with such abnormal business conditions. No other business discipline has become more strategic for both global and local (Or a combination of the two Glocal) businesses today. For proof just look at the headlines; Toyota, the largest car manufacturer in the world is dealing with massive global recalls of its best selling car models. Even Honda has joined the act with an ongoing global recall of some popular models. And who can dismiss the magnitude of the Port-au-Prince, Haiti Earthquake which destroyed the entire city and has dominated the headlines since last month. Tackling such large scale crisis requires extensive planning before the fact, as well as dexterity in the crisis team’s execution. I will attempt to synthesize in a few paragraphs the make-up and essence of an effective crisis management team as I’ve seen it in real life scenarios.
I’ll start by basing my hypothesis of the ideal crisis management team on key crisis cornerstones (basically the before, during and after scenarios):
- Crisis Preparedness
- Crisis Management
- Post Crisis & Post Mortem
From here I’ll build the different moving parts that would culminate in the efficient and effective execution by a crisis team. The first order of business is to formulate a clear and distinct strategy to act, as foundation and execution model. Remember that despite recruiting and training a team and making plans to deal with a real crisis, the guiding star for the organization should be crisis prevention.
The old adage “know your business from top to bottom…and side to side” is indeed practical when tackling a corporate crisis. This holistic approach should start from the R&D to the tail end of your supply chain. Yes, that applies to your suppliers as well. I few months ago I posted about this very topic and it is still relevant at this time. In a nutshell it states that if we took an all-hazards scenario planning approach to natural or man-made disasters; etc., we wouldn’t need to focus on crisis management. The fact of the matter is that we are mostly reluctant to accept these deviations from the norm; therefore, we must come to grips with the fact that crisis preparedness is everyone’s responsibility; even more so for the men and women tasked with dealing with the crisis. Once you have your team assembled, do your organization a favor and draw a list of possible risk scenarios. The process calls for collecting and screening information; understanding and evaluating those risk scenarios the team drew up prior; agreeing on a decision matrix to facilitate the execution and finally, developing control methods to audit the throughput.
Next step is your communication strategy. Remember that to regulate the crisis flow you must wrap your arms around the message. Handled correctly your communication plan would help you defuse situational pressure and buy yourself time to execute the rest of your plan. The first order of business for the team is to gain influence over the message communicated to the general public regarding the event, as well as external decisions made to guarantee public safety. For that matter the crisis team has to ensure good relations with the media and local authorities. Another important fact as evidence in the Toyota crisis is that nurturing a presence in new media (social media, blogs, etc.) is a worthy investment.
Once the crisis team has established the crisis scenarios; identified the stakeholders and defined internal/external lines of communication, it’s now time to rehearse. It is the crisis leader’s responsibility to set up table-top exercises and other crises simulations. Since crisis are very rare events the stakeholders need to refresh their recollection in order to keep the skills top of mind. At the same time participation in drills helps to maintain contact data and other aging information relevant.
As in the Toyota case where cultural barriers and corporate practices have crippled companies with a lack of crisis management focus, a team must labor extra hard at the planning stages to ensure senior management buy in and commitment from the entire organization.
It’s tough enough you must manage flaw-less execution under pressure chamber like conditions during a crisis, but if all else fails remember this, you must have faith, be confident in your abilities and research past experiences; it has all been done before. Jim Collins said it best “No. 1, in times of great duress, tumult, and uncertainty, you have to have moorings.” If your team needs a mantra Mr. Collins offers a good one “If there’s a storm on the mountain, more important than the plan are the people you have with you.” When you find yourself in the eye of the storm is not the time to build a crack team of crisis ninjas. Much aforethought, in the way of scenario planning should’ve been given for optimal protection of your consumers and reputation.
But now is time to grab the bull by horn or the bullhorn for that matter. Remember that a sustainable crisis management position calls for swiftly establishing and communicating the situation; fast and efficient communication flow is paramount; globally consistent crisis system and clearly defined procedures and role are all logical steps the team should take. The crisis management team should consider some aspects of how the organization markets its services or products in order to replicate its information campaign through the same marketing channels; this would not only be a coherent approach, but would also send the message to the right target market, those customers that bought into your company’s product.
How a crisis unfolds depends on countless factors which make the outcome unpredictable. But if things go south and there are SNAFUs, as Marshall Goldsmith wrote in a recent article, remember to keep the finger-pointing to a minimum. His 7 Steps process is a good guide to ensure your team becomes more cohesive and stronger. They are important lessons to be learned from every crisis; with proper documentation you’ll preserve the actions taken (Good and bad) for posterity. One thing the team should never lose site of is the enormous opportunities that a crisis brings. At no other time is the world more engaged with your company and its brands than during a crisis, it’s human nature, we’re wired that way for the most part. It is still an opportunity for the organization to show its innovation prowess by learning on the fly; its nimbleness at adapting its message as new information becomes available and drawing from the responses to fix the problems that gave way to the crisis, so that it doesn’t happen again. Adapting to the new reality starts with deep reflection on what went wrong and what the organization did right to solve it.
In conclusion, recruiting and training a crisis management team is one of the most strategically important decisions an organization should make. How the team performs during a crisis event is commensurate to the quality of training done prior to any crisis; foreseeable or not. We should all learn the lessons from past and present corporate crisis, issues that may seem small can quickly snowball sweeping away customer confidence and your reputation. Crisis prevention and preparedness could be a cheaper option against those odds.