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Crisis Questions

Chinese symbol for Crisis = Danger + Opportunity (Wikipedia)


Q1. Why is management generally resistant and reluctant to commit to substantial levels of crisis planning?

A1: Four reasons come to mind immediately:

  • Few managers believe that a crisis of any magnitude will ever happen on their watch in their place.
  • Today’s managers, especially from MBA programs, have an extraordinary level of optimism about their capacity to deal with crisis situations.
  • For reasons only known to managers the identification of crisis topics beyond those required to be addressed by law, are admissions of weakness and future vulnerability.
  • These attitudes working together make the topic of crisis management easy to raise but hard to digest.

Q2: What will it take to get management’s attention?

A2: Time to retire the tired PR concept of crisis management in favor of the management concept of readiness.

  • “Crisis management” is a public relations term designed to grab management’s attention and budget allocation through fear of the worst. But each new generation of leaders come with ever increasing level of confidence toward any adversity.
  • The trend since 9/11 has been to focus on readiness rather than crisis management. This terminology triggers a much more constructive, helpful, and productive conversation.
  • When asking for crisis management consideration, the response from management is often first, “we can’t afford to do everything you are going to ask for.” Not exactly a useful way to begin a very substantive discussion.
  • The term crisis management tends to evoke a constant level of defensiveness rather than an objective sense of what needs to be done.
  • Readiness implies an delivers constructive, moderated, believable, an often quite insightful management and leadership needs. The likely reaction is almost always positive and supportive.

Q3. What would be the most critical mistake to avoid in getting management aboard with readiness?

A3: Two-part answer.

Predetermine and present what you think are the most adverse circumstances are and presenting a partially developed readiness approach before asking the boss what he/she thinks what you should be considering.

The reason these two realities matter is that emergencies and crisis are among the few events in the life of an organization that can cost the boss his/her job. Bosses generally go first, PR people are rarely fired for crisis response reasons. That’s because responding to serious organizational issues is always an operational issue before it is ever a staff issue.

For many staff people the notion of having an unplanned conversation with the boss about anything is frightening. In readiness work because of the risks inherent in crisis and urgent situations, the boss deserves the opportunity to be asked and mentioned those things that actually, “keep the boss awake at night.” Failure to use this approach ultimately denies the boss ownership of the resulting readiness work. Mostly because what staff people choose to prepare for is unlikely to be what an operating person would choose. Time and time again, in my experience, while it is true that crisis response begins in the C suite, readiness needs to start there before anything else.

Q4: How do we avoid, anticipate or preempt the most common complaint or criticism about crisis response: we didn’t act, speak or explain fast enough?

A4: Keep in mind my definition of crisis which is: a people-stopping, product-stopping, show-stopping, reputationally-redefining event that creates victims and/or explosive visibility. The operative word being victims.

Management needs a communication strategy that begins the moment a crisis is detected. Even before substantive information or data is available. We live in a two-hundred-and-eighty-character-world. Effectively speaking instantly requires very few characters to blunt this expected criticism whatever the source.

All crisis responses are subject to five strategic steps:

Strategy #1: Stop producing victims. So long as there are victims (people, animals, living-systems), the scope of the issue you are preparing for will continue to expand until you stop producing victims.

Strategy #2: Manage the victims mentioned. As quickly as possible, putinto place response processes that will deal with and manage whatvictims are experiencing. Even if there is some question about responsibility. There are always questions about responsibility. Victims need help immediately.

Strategy #3: Communicate internally with great promptness: what makes a crisis a crisis, of course, is the instantaneous explosion of communication that occurs emanating from the site or source of crisis. Meanwhile management is trying to establish or sort out what is going on and goes into a period of silence to figure things out. It’s that silence that will be toxic to whatever strategy you use to respond. Communicating internally is the most important way of getting
urgent information out. Rather than initially produce elaborate, complicated, data-driven documents, prepare a simple series of statements (300 words or less, approximately 2 minutes reading or speaking time), to be issued with a velocity equal to the issues surfacing by whatever the emergency happens to be. Studies have shown that individuals can retain and accurately repeat statements of up to 300 words. This approach tends to script everyone seeing the statements rather than make up responses of their own. This approach also solves two other crucial communications problems. If first communication is external, internal audiences are automatically left out of the communications equation, and they
rarely catch up. So internal audiences make things up. The unintended benefit of internal communication first is far less internal to external communication actually happens. Fewer people talk, but they’re all on the same script. If you fail to communicate internally first, everybody’s talking and making things up.

Strategy #4: Contact the indirectly affected, vendors, customers, partners, collaborators, colleague companies, component manufacturers, people who have a problem now only because you have a problem. Direct communication from you, very promptly, will help them, surprisingly, say very little, and that they do say will likely follow the script you provide. Modest but helpful information early will help them wait rather than speculate on what the causes and circumstances might be.

Strategy #5: Manage the self-appointed, self-anointed. This means working with the legacy news media, the new media, the bloggers, bloviators, belly-achers and backbench bitchers who follow events like this, sounding like experts on your company, product or industry. Include them in the distribution of your series of early statements. This is an extension of your strategy of scripting every audience and constituency from the beginning.

Q5: The five strategies are a lot to accomplish when a crisis is fulminating. What is the time frame?

A5:  The Golden Hour. Each of these five strategies is launched in the first 60 to 120 minutes of a crisis. This rapid response framework is based on, “The Golden Hour” concept found in military medicine.

Q6: What are managements most important responsibilities in crisis?

A6: The Boss’ Most Crucial Role in Crisis

Q7: What management and leadership behaviors assure even the best readiness strategy?  

A7: Profiles in Failure: Behavior Patterns That Precipitate and Perpetuate Trouble

Q8: How is readiness maintained in today’s quarterly performance-driven, frenetic marketing, numbers-conscious management environment?

A8: Four things matter:

1. Keep it simple, sensible, and strategic.
2. Focus on the 5% of the readiness activities that truly matter. In reality, 95% of readiness activities will be forgotten or skipped. Keep refining and refocusing response efforts.
3. A Whereabouts Process. Eliminate the greatest time-waster and decision barrier to prompt response, establish a responsibility for and operation to keep track of key responders’ locations and contact information. Studies have shown that a missing decision maker can take one-two hours to locate, consuming precious responder time, and allowing unnecessary collateral damage.
4. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. The more frequent the practice the higher the proficiency of responders. Frequent rehearsals promptly integrate new team members.

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