A crisis is a situation that any organisation can experience at any time. Some make it through with their reputation intact but others don’t survive.
A crisis is not the same as an issue. The latter can be serious but tends to be a challenge that we expect to arise in our line of work and we should be confident of managing it. A crisis, however, has the potential to change everything to the point where an organisation cannot function and there is a reputational and material impact to the business.
This could involve fatalities or physical injuries, declining customer confidence, significant falls in the share price, litigation or legal sanctions.
In a crisis, ‘“we weren’t ready”’ is never an excuse. Every organisation needs to have protocols and processes in place so that staff can respond effectively if a crisis does occur. It boils down to choreography.
You must already know who does what and when in relation to the crisis that you have already anticipated. You should have already decided on your response in advance because in crisis communications there should be no surprises.
The theory needs to be backed up by practical experience as well. Crisis simulations allow you to see how colleagues perform under pressure, their strengths and weaknesses and what responsibilities they’d be best suited to.
Face-to-face role-play is a really effective exercise to see how individual team members react to various scenarios. They can help you find out whether they’re up to the task or will need more training.
As with all learning and development sessions, it’s essential that staff and their managers receive feedback on their crisis management skills and performance so that they can know how they can improve and have faith in their own abilities.
In a crisis, your internal and external communications can make or break your reputation. If an organisation quickly takes control and explains how it is responding and doing the right thing then it can emerge with its reputation intact, or even enhanced.
Crises can draw a lot of media attention. The media expects that an organisation will look after those affected, handling them with care and consideration. You need to keep staff and any victims in the crisis fully informed and media statements must always be timely, accurate and truthful.
Media covering the news will want to see management accepting responsibility for what has happened and evidence that the organisation is doing everything it can to deal with the crisis, make amends and learn for the future.
It’s vital that you have a media toolkit that can help you respond quickly in the event of a crisis, consisting of your Emergency Response Plan and holding statements for the media news desks, your own website and social media channels. These should all be worked out, created and signed off in advance. This will help buy you time as you tackle the crisis.
Spokespeople must be clear on what they can and cannot say in a crisis. When an investigation is underway, the cause of an accident or incident simply cannot be discussed and blame should always be avoided. You must not be drawn into speculation, such as talking about the likely consequences for your organisation or other parties involved.
But there are plenty of things that you can talk about, such as how you have responded to the crisis and what you are doing for all those affected. You can discuss what you are doing to manage the crisis and whom you are cooperating with.
There are a number of practical ways that you can test your employees’ knowledge and the skills they will need for engaging with media in a crisis. By simulating and recording one-to-one interviews, hostile media engagement and press conferences you can carefully assess an individual’s understanding of the key messages that the company needs to deliver during that crisis and how clearly they can communicate under pressure.
You might also consider creating a social media exercise that asks employees to respond to tweeted questions and criticism quickly and appropriately in real-time. Remember social media can be your friend, providing a channel you can control with regards to updating the media on a regular basis and diverting media calls, which takes pressure off small in-house teams dealing with a crisis.
In the past, many organisations have found it impossible to train everyone to the same standard but with the possibilities offered through blended learning today it is so much easier to provide training to suit everyone. Digital solutions now make it much more cost-effective to train staff, wherever they are, and accurately track and evaluate their progress.
Knowing that your colleagues have successfully completed their training is invaluable, particularly where crisis management is concerned. It will give you peace of mind and you’ll be satisfied that your organisation is in safe hands – no matter what the future holds.
About the author
Mark Lyons is the co-founder of Remote Group.