As French literary figure Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
If your goal is to successfully manage your organization through a crisis, a mere wish is not going to cut it. You need a crisis management plan or, as baseball great Yogi Berra aptly observed, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
Chances are, your stakeholders would prefer that your organization not end up wherever “someplace else” might be.
What Is a Crisis Management Plan?
In short, a crisis management plan is the cornerstone of your organization’s overall preparedness strategy.
We live in an era where nothing is off the table in terms of what might befall your business, your health, or even the planet-at-large. So it’s essential to be prepared for anything (and everything).
Think back to New Year’s Eve 2019 — counting down the clock to 2020, who would have thought that a pandemic, economic collapse, political unrest, and mass protests would soon follow that celebratory sip of bubbly?
Those organizations that successfully weathered the first few months of the year either had a crisis management plan already in place — or they got lucky.
Though it’s fine to indulge the occasional superstitious, relying on luck (like flipping a coin) doesn’t make for a viable longterm strategy. To misquote everyone’s favorite space rogue Han Solo, “Superstitions and ancient wishlists are no match for a good crisis management plan at your side.”
If you don’t yet have a crisis management plan in place — don’t fret — you can start now to ensure your organization’s resilience in the face of a crisis.
Knowing What A Crisis Management Plan Should Have
Ours is a culture of list-making. From grocery lists to hard-to-resist click-bait listicles online, we love to write down our notions in serial form, line by line, and often in the order of personal appeal.
Here are the top six components of a crisis management plan should have (and, at the risk of reading like clickbait, number four might surprise you!).
1) Know When to Act
The old phrase, “I’ll know it when I see it” may work when choosing a tie, but it’s not a workable means of gauging the onset of a crisis. If you can “see it,” then it’s probably already too late. Instead, create a system of protocols that will help determine when an issue is a potential crisis and a scalable way to escalate your response.
Create activation guidelines that help determine when — and if — a crisis is in progress. This goes part and parcel with establishing systems to monitor and assess any early indications of a crisis-in-the-making.
2) Know Your Team
Assemble your own personal roster of in-house superheroes. These are usually trusted department heads or those with particular expertise that can help when it comes to managing issues that may arise during a crisis.
This is your crisis management team. Assign tasks and empower your team member to be the “owner” of that task and make vital decisions as necessary.
3) Know What’s Important
Having a clear understanding of your organization’s priorities will help when proactively outlining an effective crisis management plan. Assuming that ensuring the safety of your employees and customers is your first priority, what follows?
Are there irreplaceable records that need to be protected like the recipe for your company’s secret sauce? Knowing what your organization values will help determine what needs to be managed or maintained — and how.
4) Know What Needs to Be Done
In the firestorm of activity that a crisis can bring, keeping organized and knowing what vital tasks have been accomplished (and what still needs to be done) can profoundly assist in your efforts to mitigate a crisis.
To start, you need a place to track tasks and share information. Platforms like Beekeeper offer many elegant solutions to keep your team on top of any situation.
5) Know Who to Talk To
Be sure your team has clearly identified who needs to be notified in the event of a crisis and how they will be reached (phone, email, social media?). To that end, be sure to maintain an updated list of key emergency contacts.
6) Know What Works
How effective is your crisis management plan? Test it and find out and update it as need. Do this regularly and your organization will have a fine-tuned process to respond to an array of scenarios.
A crucial part of any crisis management plan is a crisis communication plan. When it comes to managing a crisis, you don’t have to just walk the walk, you also have to talk the talk.
Your Crisis Communication Plan
Fundamentally speaking, your crisis communication plan should outline what’s necessary to preserve your organization’s reputational capital when publicly challenged.
Consider that 40 years ago, a report by Thomson Reuters and Interbrand found that nearly 95% of a corporation’s value was realized in its tangible assets.
Times have changed.
Now, as much as 75% of that same corporation’s value is intangible and a lot of is what’s called its “brand reputational value.”
Many crisis management case studies cite a 2017 marketing misfire in which Pepsi launched a video ad featuring Kendall Jenner splitting a fashion shoot to join a group of protestors and give a police officer a can of soda (for reasons lost to time). The ad revealed a lack of cultural competence on Pepsi’s part and the backlash was fierce and fast. Fortunately, the beverage company, was able to pivot, pull the ad, and issue an apology.
“The response was heralded for its speed and straightforward nature,” writes Brandfolder’s Meg Prater, “but it will take a while for the brand to recover from this internally created ‘worst ad ever.’”
To protect your brand’s reputational value, your organization needs to be prepared to wrangle the negative narratives that inevitably arise during a crisis swiftly and in alignment with a well-planned communications strategy.
3 Critical Elements of Your Crisis Communication Template
When formulating a crisis communication strategy, a basic tenet holds that it’s better to be proactive rather than reactive. It’s important to know both what needs to be said and when it needs to be said. It’s equally important to decide who will do the talking.
You need to select a spokesperson from your crisis management team who can speak credibly on behalf of your organization. This will often be someone from your leadership circle but it may also be someone with media training or even an outside communications professional.
Whomever you choose, they should be prepared to engage with an array of stakeholders from employees and shareholders to media and the surrounding community. A background and training in social media strategy may also prove important depending on your organization’s needs and overall communications strategy.
This is where having a series of prepared “holding statements” will prove to be a crucial element of your crisis management plan. More than mere “talking points,” holding statements both anticipate and speak to a crisis situation despite not yet having a full appreciation of its scope.
Holding statements are templatized, ready-to-go remarks that essentially allow those managing a crisis to be present and address immediate concerns while also ascertaining additional information to be addressed in future statements.
Prepare official communications that speak to each one of your stakeholder groups. What you communicate to your employees during a crisis will likely differ from what you share with the media.
Moreover, take the time to actually listen to their concerns and integrate them into your future statements.
Now, more than ever, people need to be heard, and your organization has a unique opportunity, if not obligation, to do so during a crisis.
Think of crisis communication as an ongoing conversation rather than a single speech. Analyze similar company’s crisis management case studies in order to compare your organization’s readiness with other organizations in your industry.
Your organization’s honesty and transparency in these moments are the foundation of its authority. The stronger that foundation, the better your organization will fare through a crisis.
Your 4-Question Crisis Management Plan Template Tool
Every organization has to contend with some element of risk. Whether it’s the inherent volatility of certain business sectors or bringing an innovative but untested product to market, being in business assumes the acceptance of certain risk factors.
Then there are other kinds of risks like, say, your factory’s proximity to a major faultline. Sure, this might seem esoteric at first but crisis management examples and risk assessment models need to account for an array of possibilities so that contingencies can be prepared accordingly.
Crisis management best practices: ask yourself these four basic questions to assess your organization’s crisis management plan.
1. What Are Your Vulnerabilities?
Any thorough risk assessment entails locating the points where a crisis would negatively disrupt your business.
Evaluate where the organization is most vulnerable and what threats could exploit these vulnerabilities. Frequently, these include the need for product recalls, cyberattacks, bungled marketing campaigns (like giving a Pepsi to a cop), or liabilities in leadership.
2. What Impact Will a Crisis Have on Your Business?
One measure to determine how a crisis will affect your business is to run a business impact analysis (BIA).
According to the Department of Homeland Security,
“The BIA should identify the operational and financial impacts resulting from the disruption of business functions and processes.”
A properly executed BIA will help ensure your organization has considered the many pitfalls that a crisis may bring, from supply chain interruption to physical damage to buildings. Other points of concern detailed by the Ready.gov website include damage to equipment, utility outages, damage to critical data, and absenteeism of essential employees.
3. What Crisis Models Are You Using?
Some quantum physicists maintain that everything that can happen eventually will happen. This, of course, requires an infinite amount of time, which you likely don’t have — especially in the event of a crisis. That said, it’s a good idea to formulate a representative set of scenarios that might occur to your organization and incorporate them into your crisis management plan template.
Obviously, this kind of exercise can’t anticipate every possible scenario, but it can certainly help you focus on the most plausible crises that could occur given your organization’s individual circumstances.
Other crisis management examples and scenarios to consider could include cyberattacks, terrorism, loss of utilities like power, water or wifi, a major building fire, natural disasters, pandemics, and economic collapse.
4. Are You Rehearsed?
Practice makes perfect — and it may also save your organization. When it comes to crisis management best practices, a failsafe way to promote preparedness is to practice your plan with regular crisis simulations. These exercises will test your crisis management plan and indicate, in real-time, what works and where it can be improved. Advocates of crisis management planning urge routine exercises with the entire crisis management team on hand to enact each of their responsibilities.
Test every aspect of your plan, from communication channels and taking inventory of critical resources, to mock interviews and interactions with the media. These “dress rehearsals” will prove invaluable in the event of an actual crisis. Or as Sun Tzu recommends, “Plan for what is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small.”