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The Ultimate Readiness for Crisis

Overcome Blindsides

How to Develop a Contingency Mindset

ready (or not) by greg westfall, flickr, creative commons license

ready (or not) by greg westfall, flickr, creative commons license

A Contingency Mindset throughout your readiness thinking and planning acknowledges that as comprehensively and carefully as you prepare for the communication, contact, interactions and engagement that will be expected of us throughout the course of a crisis, and your forecast responses applying all of your years of experience, there will still be those off-the-wall, large and surprising situations and circumstances that blindside. Coming from nowhere these events will be extremely time and attention-consuming, and very costly to manage, mitigate, control or overcome.

Extensive “blindside thinking” may already be embedded in your plans and strategies, including crucial, persistent vulnerability points that have already been signaled by those who always oppose, criticize, intentionally mis-characterize, and sensationalize.

Remember too, Lukaszewski’s First Axiom of Crisis Survival:

Neither the media, your toughest opponents, smartest critics, nor the government knows enough to defeat you. Defeat is almost always the work of uninformed or over confident, overly optimistic bosses, co-workers and associates talking because the boss is silent; well-meaning but uninformed friends, relatives covering for the organization, or from dysfunction in an organization.

And Lukaszewski’s First Law of a Successful Crisis First Response:

Stop The Production Of Victims.

There are also patterns of opposition strategy that often trigger contingent events and which those opposing you hope to create. These general strategies include:

  1. Constantly raising negatives
  2. Exposing and expanding victim testimony and visibility
  3. Building emotional resistance to your efforts
  4. Promoting additional spectacular threats
  5. Selling fear, environmental damage, health and safety degradation, persistent un-answerable allegations
  6. Seeking ways to raise project and response costs
  7. Slowing down or preventing the support of others
  8. Aggressively enrolling, tracking, obligating key decision makers (to keep them from helping you)
  9. Agitate, irritate, humiliate, legislate and litigate

Contingent level behaviors we’ve seen in large-scale crises include:

  • Designation as a “globally significant threat”
  • The emergence of extraordinary coalitions of leading NGOs and NPOs
  • The availability of extraordinary funding to support opposition activities
  • A master coordinating campaign strategy, including sustained opposition execution focused on you
  • Extraordinarily negative related events (you’re unlucky, besides)
  • Self-inflicted problems
  • WWDK — What we don’t know (that we probably should have known)

Contingency thinking is a form of pre-authorizing action rather than waiting to act once contingent circumstances appear to be occurring.

This kind of thinking helps achieve the one behavior that, if not undertaken, seriously tarnishes your reputation… the failure to respond now.

The single most toxic strategy in crisis management is waiting to react. There is never a good explanation for waiting to do things which would mitigate victim circumstances and reduce the production of additional victims. None.

Failure to act faster than promptly, is the most common criticism of Crisis Response.

Here are some of the toxic excuses we’ve all heard from management, leadership and perpetrators for failing to act. None of these excuses pass the straight face or laugh test, and they are beyond belief from the moment they are uttered or quoted:

  1. “The government asked us not to talk.”
  2. “Our attorneys advised us to be quiet.”
  3. “We didn’t know enough to say anything that mattered.”
  4. “We wanted to wait until we had all the facts before we talked.”
  5. “We didn’t want to further hurt the survivors and the victims.”
  6. “Those injured, hurt or adversely affected deserve their privacy.”
  7. “We didn’t want the media to be bothering those who were injured or survivors.”
  8. “We knew the media would get it wrong, whatever we said.”
  9. “We knew that saying little or nothing would reduce the coverage and manage the sensationalism that crisis always causes.”
  10. “Saying something would give a lot of people who didn’t deserve it visibility, credibility and additional power.”
  11. “We didn’t want to play into the hands of those who opposed us, who were angry, or who were going to sue us.”

The decision to speak is not up to the attorneys, not up to the PR people, not even up to other members of the senior management team or outsiders. The decision to talk is a pure leadership decision. Yes, the bosses sometimes hide behind the attorneys, but that’s the time to call these bosses out. Attorneys are prohibited by their canons of ethics from making and promoting specific recommendations to clients. They must offer options, and let the client decide. Never be intimidated by a strong-willed attorney. That is what they’re paid to do. The choice for silence is so toxic, so devastating, that it could well be a career defining moment for the leader of the organization. And, it often is.

Silence is the most reputationally toxic strategy any reputable individual organization can choose. You just can’t recover.

The gap that occurs between the onset of crisis events and the initial response is the Reputation, Honesty and Integrity Gap. In addition to reflecting the amount of serious damage to your reputation and trustworthiness, this gap, which will never be closed, can reflect the size of your fines, and in some cases, the length of jail sentences.

Be a contingency thinker; prepare for the blindsides. This kind of thinking and pre-authorizing action is the soul and heart of credible and effective crisis response.

James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, Fellow IABC; APR, Fellow PRSA, BEPS Emeritus

If you have questions, or would like to dive more deeply into the subject of this blog, you can reach me 24/7 at; 203-948-7029 (voicemail, email, text). I look forward, as a friend and colleague, to helping you achieve the objectives you’ve set for yourself for having a happier, more influential, successful and meaningful career.

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