When a crisis hits, it rarely happens at a convenient time. Rarely does it hit during the working hours. Only a few times did I have a police operation that started and ended appropriately during my shift.
In the corporate world, the crisis often begins at a time when half of the key personnel are out of the country, and the new CEO has only been at work for a couple of weeks. The executive with the most media training is out somewhere and it’s not at all clear who could replace him or her. Still, the organization should take effective action to manage the crisis.
In this blog I go through the steps that an organization, and especially the person appointed as a crisis manager, needs to take at the beginning and during the crisis. Whatever the situation, these steps will improve your chances of success.
Someone takes the lead. You need to quickly figure out who is leading the efforts, unless it is completely clear in the organization anyway. If disagreements start to arise about who is in charge, someone needs to step up and start arranging the crisis response.
Gather a crisis team. Make sure you have everyone you need to handle the situation. No extra people are needed.
Let everyone know who is in charge. If you received or took on the ungrateful role of crisis manager, let everyone know you are leading the situation.
Outline the big picture. What are the essentials, and which are not? Focus only on the essentials. Such are the hot issues that stakeholders have as a result of the situation, the pointing finger, preventing further damage, reputational threats and safeguarding operating conditions.
Tell everyone what the plan is. While the organization has good crisis plans, they may not be right for this particular crisis. If there are useful things in the plan, have someone to pick them up and introduce them to you asap. Formulate a crisis plan for this crisis and share it with everyone.
Delegate and assign tasks. Try to quickly outline what actions need to be taken right away. You may not have a very large team at your disposal, so you need to think about prioritizing the most important things.
Focus on leading the crisis efforts. Management is not a technical thing. It is decisions and policies made on the basis of the best possible information. Keep yourself available by not writing emails and talking on the phone all the time.
Hold periodic meetings. Gather key people at the same table (or Teams) at regular intervals. In a fast-moving situation, periodic meetings are held more often and in a slow-moving situation less frequently.
Define communication actions. Assign the communications director or manager to plan the implementation of the crisis communication. Define which communications have to go through you and what the comms personnel can publish by their own discretion.
Spokesperson. Make sure the organization has someone to give public statements to the media. Even if there is not much to say yet, someone has to be available to the media. If some detail cannot be said or commented on, remember to explain why.
Determine which channels and which tools are used. If possible, get someone to think about the communication channels and practises, inside and outside the organization. Once the channels and practices are clear, tell about them to everyone in the crisis team and outside when needed.
Keep a log of events. Assign someone to keep a record of all policies, actions, assignments, and communication activities taken.
Ask for acknowledgments. Request acknowledgments to ensure all tasks are done. Always.
Keep the situational picture updated. A situational picture is not a single picture of a situation taken at a single moment. It is always a vivid and multidimensional picture of the situation that requires receiving and retrieving information. The best situational picture is created through close communication with those involved in the operation. Select the sources of information and the way you want information from them.
When the situation gets hotter, Your head gets colder. Do not worry. Breathe. Eat. Drink. Keep yourself and others around You functional.
When I led police operations and communications, I found out that management and communications are indeed an inseparable pair, both of which must be in top shape in all situations and crises. On the private side, my experience only got stronger when I helped a big company in a serious cyber crisis.
The saying leadership is communication and communication is leadership does not apply directly to crisis situations. Crisis management is a unique discipline that must take into account every other crisis efforts. Crisis communication is also its own discipline. Is it good or efficient depends on the quality of the crisis management.
Leadership and communication are involved in managing every crisis. Therefore, they should also be practiced together. It is also worthwhile to practice different crisis situations in accordance with the organisation's own risk assessment. For example, in cyber incidents, IT and information security play an important role, in addition to actions by the authorities and criminal process.
Communication is the most visible part of the crisis, but management is the most important function of crisis efforts. Without good management, brilliant crisis communication will not get an organization out of trouble. Without good crisis communication, even more brilliant crisis management will not save an organization from the doom.
When you train for crisis situations, practice crisis management and communication together.
More information on crisis management and crisis communication at www.gestion.fi
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