Imagine starting your day the best way you know how: a great night’s sleep, waking up early and refreshed, a hearty breakfast that’s healthy enough to make you feel good about yourself, the best weather for the season you’re in… only for you to receive a call from the office and your colleague starting off by saying, “So… something happened and we need you in now. I’ll explain later.”
Similar calls have ruined, and will continue to ruin, perfect mornings all the time.
Crises will occur, no matter what industry, management hierarchy, or business function you’re in. It is therefore imperative that you are prepared for them by ensuring that you have a toolkit you can access, which should include the following:
Pre-Appointed Response Teams
If you’re the one who is receiving a call regarding an urgent problem that needs to be addressed, then chances are you are or will become a part of the response team.
Appointing response teams ensures that in the event of an emergency, the right people with the right skills and necessary authority will follow up with the right actions. Pre-appointing them means that these people as well as their colleagues have been made aware that the response team will be the one to immediately take charge to handle certain incidents. This will:
(1) Reduce any lag that might occur between an incident and a response.
(2) Reduce the overall levels of tension that a crisis may generate; when stakeholders know that a problem is being assessed by a group of trustworthy professionals, they tend to be calmer.
(3) Ensure that the crisis is being assessed and addressed from multiple perspectives and viewpoints.
The individuals that make up the crisis response team also must be as credible as possible; they should include some senior members of the organization with track records of competence and knowledge related to the problem as well as the authority to execute follow-up actions, depending on the type of crisis occurring. Different crises should have different response teams, though overlaps are common.
Some industries can expect to experience certain crises over time, depending on the kind of risks inherent to their sectors. If certain emergency situations can be anticipated for your company, it is best to conceive plans for those emergencies before they occur. For example, all commercial buildings are generally required to have evacuation plans and emergency protocols in the case of a fire. Building management usually have evacuation routes marked, emergency exits labelled, sprinkler systems installed, and pre-recorded emergency instructions ready before the building is even operational.
Adopt a similar attitude for possible situations that your company might experience if you haven’t already. Consider the following questions:
(1) What are some of the emergencies that you can reasonably expect to respond to?
(2) What would you need to respond to such an emergency quickly and effectively?
(3) Do you have the necessary tools or knowledge at hand?
Pre-Written Response Templates
Many crises often require a written response or statement, whether directed publicly or internally, sometimes even both, particularly if the problem is highly visible in nature or affects many people. This is especially so when social media is involved, where even seemingly minor issues can escalate very quickly, often requiring a response within the same day, if not the same hour.
However, it is possible to draft general templates in anticipation of such situations, which is preferable to frantically typing out a response while in a state of heightened tension. Draft them with the help of your PR or Communications Team, ensure that they are accessible to your crisis response team, and ask your legal department to go over them before publication.
Often, the first responses that you put up should help you buy time for you to analyse the problem as thoroughly as you can, a ‘holding statement’ that goes something like this:
“We are currently conducting an internal investigation to ascertain the details of the issue at hand. We will reach out to/ are in contact with those involved and will reveal the outcome of our investigations in due course.”
Such a statement lets everyone know that you are aware of the problem, that you are ready to take the appropriate measures, and that you are being transparent and responsible to the people involved.
Such templates can be used for both public-facing and internal crises; cases of the latter might be templates addressed to stakeholders or to all employees. Just note that these general templates should be amended to include the specifics of the situation at hand and contain relevant, concise information.
Media Monitoring Team
If there is a real risk of the situation drawing public interest, ensure that you have a team monitoring any developments that appear on both online and traditional media, and that they provide regular updates to the response team. This is especially important for a large multinational corporation with a highly recognisable brand or a listed company that can’t afford any stains on its reputation.
This team will also be able to let you gauge the perceived magnitude of a problem; sometimes, what’s originally a small issue, such as one customer getting the wrong order, can get blown out of proportion.
Post-Crisis Review Plan
The crisis has blown over. The dust is beginning to settle. Everyone involved is more or less ready to move on. As a leader, however, it is your job now to ensure two things:
(1) The problem that precipitated the crisis ever happens again; and
(2) If the same crisis, or something similar, does happen again, that your business will be able to handle it better.
During a state of heightened stress and tension, it is only human that some in the response team or staff might have made a mistake or taken a misstep while trying to respond to the problem at hand (which might have also been caused by a mistake). It might be tempting to begin pointing fingers but that would not only solve little, it could do further damage to the morale of the company.
Instead, take the data or outcome of the investigations done by the response team, analyse for gaps or fissures within current systems and processes, and work towards implementing them. Just note that it is advisable to strike a balance between improving current systems and keeping them lean and efficient.
These are just some key resources that your company or department must have in case of an emergency or a crisis. Installing and maintaining them might take some effort and time but they will save you money and resources when some unexpected crises emerges. It will help to build resilience and enable your business to become more agile and sustainable.
About the Author:
Angeline V. Teo is the President and Chief Consultant of PEPWorldwide (Asia) Pte. Ltd. She is also an International Speaker, certified Master PEP Consultant, Executive Coach and Author. Above all, she is a caring Mother of two, a loving Wife, filial Daughter and avid Spa and Vacation addict!