Ten Keys to Effective Crisis Management

by Eddie Reeves on September 28, 2017

Has your organization ever had to grapple with a major crisis?

If not, just wait.

Chances are, if your organization is attempting to achieve anything of consequence, you WILL experience a major controversy that will potentially result in major disruption at best, and may threaten the entity’s very survival at worst.

As someone who has helped numerous organization of all sizes and stripes negotiate the treacherous waters of an institutional crisis, I recommend these ten key practices of high-performance strategic crisis management:

1: Have a solid crisis communications plan in place

Leaders are infinitely more effective at dealing with the pressure-cooker environment of a crisis if they have well-thought crisis plan in place before the crisis occurs. No specific crisis is likely to follow the plan very closely, but that doesn’t diminish the value of having a plan. As General Dwight Eisenhower said, “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

2: Identify your crisis management team

A small team of savvy executives should serve as your crisis communications team. The CEO should lead the team, and at a minimum, the organization’s top public relations executive (and/or outside PR/crisis communications consultant), legal counsel and senior HR executive should stand duty as chief advisers.

3: Designate a skilled spokesperson

Ideally, the CEO will be the main person who speaks for the organization during the crisis, but a secondary person should be appointed to shepherd the day-to-day media interaction. If this individual has not received significant media training, schedule it before he or she is put to the task. In many cases it may make more sense to hire an outside consultant for this role.

4: Designate a media coordinator

This is important for both your organization and the media. It is important that someone be paying attention to the ongoing care and feeding (sometimes literally) of the media and ensuring that all media receive the best information in the best time frame. To be most effective, the media coordinator will understand the organization, its culture and its history, including past incidents, legal claims or negative information that media may discover, because if it exists, it WILL come to light.

5: Designate an internal communications coordinator

One of the most vital areas of activity in managing a crisis, but one of the most often given short shrift, is in managing how employees, contractors, retirees, shareowners an other internal stakeholders are communicated with. Don’t dare ignore these crucial audiences. They can either be one of your organization’s greatest assets or one of its greatest liabilities in managing a crisis.

6: Practice, practice, practice

One of the single most important and effective things that organizations can do is rehearse for crises, although few ever do. Conduct actual mock crises and evaluate how your team handles them. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make prepared.

Once a crisis occurs, the “three R’s” of crisis communications come into play:

7: Recognize

You want to communicate about the crisis as soon as possible, but NOT until you have something helpful to communicate. Gather all the facts you can as quickly as you can from as many sources as you can, but remember the most important question is “Have we done what we need to do to immediately protect the loss of life, limb and property (in that order)?”

9: Respond

You don’t have to wait to begin responding. This is where having a strong plan in place before a crisis is invaluable. There are some basic things you can do immediately — isolating any danger areas, contacting the proper authorities, marshaling medical, logistical or technical resources, etc. In addition to being the right thing to do, immediately springing into action with some of these basic steps will go a long way toward reassuring the press and the public that you are trustworthy.

10: Repair

Once the crisis has subsided, you must launch an in-depth review of what led to the crisis, how well you responded and how you might prevent such a crisis in the future. Once this review is thorough and complete — but not a moment before — you must then communicate clearly and convincingly to all your audiences your findings.

If you are lucky, you will never be put in the position of managing and communicating through a crisis. If you are a leader of an organization that is trying to accomplish anything of real consequence or meaning, however, the odds are you will grapple with this challenge sooner or later.

Rather than dreading it, understating it, or worse, ignoring it altogether, I encourage you to view it as an opportunity to move your organization forward.

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