Prior to the 24-hour news channels, the advent of social media, and an ever-advancing world of mobile technology, the corporate spokesperson during a crisis could control the messages through carefully constructed news conferences.
This is no longer the case with the advent of “citizen journalists.” Organizations that have not yet recognized today’s new media place themselves in serious peril when a crisis occurs.
Today crisis communication is no longer just a corporate communicator’s function. No longer can the PR department write the crisis manual and just arrange for media training of a select few spokespeople. Today, crisis management is much more than just crisis communication during an emergency such as a flood, fire or nuclear mishap event.
A crisis, by definition, “is a revelation, allegation or set of circumstances which threatens the integrity, reputation, or survival of an individual or an organization.” Crises of any kind, be they event or non-event related, threaten the public’s sense of safety, security, values and appropriateness.
When a crisis occurs, actual, potential or perceptual damage to the organization’s brand and reputation will occur. Because the organization is often at a loss to end the damage immediately, the “after shocks” continue to do even more damage.
Therefore, a crisis management plan must account for what we generally think of as those natural or man-made events that require activation of an Emergency Operations Center and for those business crisis that are non-event related.
Statistics show that most business crises today are non-event related.
These are the “smoldering or simmering” situations that create crisis in organizations, with 49 percent of the crises originating from management and 33 percent from employees.
Of these crises, 61 percent were deemed “smoldering or simmering” while only 39 percent were sudden. This means that, in some cases, the organization was truly blindsided by the onset of the event, yet, in other cases, the organization had sufficient intelligence to be prepared and yet had not sufficiently planned to address it.
These crises range among 2012 crisis categories, expressed in percentages:
White collar crime — 16 percent
Mismanagement — 15
Work place violence — 11
Class action lawsuits — 11
Business disruption — 8
Labor dispute — 8
Casualty accidents — 8
Financial damage — 6
Consumer Activism — 4
Discrimination — 3
Other (not listed) — 3
Sexual harassment — 2
Environmental — 2
Whistleblowers — 2
Executive dismissal — 1
Prudent and strategically thinking organizations recognize the need to institutionalize, within all the key business functions, a holistic and standardized approach to handling both event and non-event related crises.
A coordinated holistic approach addresses crisis prediction, issues analysis, prevention and management as a formal part of the overall business planning strategy. Such an approach ensures solid contingency plans as part of business continuity planning.
A Change Management Plan is a key component of this strategy since such an approach requires a change from the traditional model of just event emergency planning. It requires corporate communicators and management at all levels of the business to carefully think through all the various event and non-event crises that the agency needs to be prepared to handle.
Therefore, to be effective and efficient, crisis management of non-events must be embedded into the corporation’s overall management system. Just as an organization has emergency responders within each business unit, they also must have non-event crisis managers as part of the matrix.
Holistic crisis planning, therefore, enhances the capability of the management within all business units, as well as communicators and management at the corporate level, to be better prepared. They will be ready to respond to new and even unimagined non-event risks and to manage the growing number and diversity of stakeholders, many of whom have conflicting agendas.
As organizations become more complex, non-event crisis planning becomes even more critical. Because as the organizations grow, they restructure, merge divisions and must deal with the business of corporate realignment.
This excellence in management approach can only be accomplished through integration of non-event planning as a value-add, standardized and critical component of any emergency planning activity.
When the threat management process addresses event and non-event issues and is integrated within the overall issues management process in the organization, the crisis prediction and prevention capability is noticeably enhanced. This is particularly the case for the “smoldering or simmering” crises referred to above.
Identifying and evaluating as many as possible threats and issues are always the first steps. Yet it is the management and communication of these threats and issues that is critical and most challenging for all organizations, especially when dealing with the non-event issues.
Obviously, not all crises are predictable or preventable. Yet, an effective threat and issues management process, embedded within the crisis management planning structure and coordinated at the corporate level, allows for the organization’s management to potentially foresee, plan scenarios, exercise them, be proactive and then decide to take, treat, transfer or eliminate the threat.
Forward-thinking and progressive organizations are appointing crisis event and non-event managers. These managers are charged with assessing, planning and implementing a standardized protocol and comprehensive crisis event and non-event response and communication system. This system embeds key business functions such as operations, human resources, legal, IT, health safety and environment, sales and marketing, communications, cyber and reputation security as part of the progressive crisis management teams.
Once processes have been developed covering all key business functions, the competency issues of crisis team members must be addressed. This is accomplished in the following three stages:
1. Utilize behavioral and personality style assessment such as use of the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory.
2. Provide training in those areas in which team members will be engaged, i.e. media, social media, presentation skills, dealing with different personality styles, etc.
3. Conduct extensive tabletop or full-field exercising combined with systematically cataloguing and documenting lessons learned and best practices.
Skills, training and professional experience at all levels of the crisis response structure are critical. The response begins with the receptionist providing the telephone response to callers. It includes the leadership and strategic planning skills of the crisis management team and the ability to provide counseling and support to employees, the next of kin and the victims of a crisis. And, of course, communication with the mainstream media is critical, as well as the effective shaping of messages in social media while protecting the organization’s brand and reputation.
Research, and our team member’s 40 years of experience in behavioral psychology and management, validates that the best crisis management team members are chosen and trained according to behavioral suitability and not the function related to the position on the team.
Due to ongoing staff adjustments and job changes in corporations as well as downsizing and corporate reorganization, it is essential to have a comprehensive plan that trains and retrains crisis team members in a systematic and regular manner to account for this turn over.
Many corporations are choosing to establish curriculum based training certification programs to ensure the right people are in the right place properly trained to handle the situation when needed.
The days of a corporate communicator being able to handle a crisis by calling a reporter friend are over.
Crisis communications of event and non-event situations are complex and require standardization across all business units. Embedding the crisis managers into the corporation at all levels ensures that the best decisions are made by having an active ongoing risk and issues assessment protocol. This protocol utilizes tried and proven strategies and tactics that predict and, when possible, prevent crises while managing the issue and the public and stakeholders’ perceptions.