+1 617.391.0425 Mind Tools Home

You are here:

Request a Demo Contact Us

Are You Making a Drama out of a Crisis?

Bob Little 

December 8, 2017

You can’t pick up a newspaper or switch on the television news without being bombarded by breathless reports of one crisis or another. Often, they are genuine crises, but it also seems like the word gets used to describe lower-level events or dramas.

And there are those who think that the word is misappropriated in the corporate world, too.  Andrew Hill, management editor of the U.K.’s Financial Times, believes that some situations are deliberately labelled “crisis,”  when they are no such thing.

Quoted in the newsletter of Financial Times |IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance, Hill says, “Corporate leaders have ‘fetishized’ crisis management, partly because of the appealing idea that a crisis always represents an opportunity – though mainly for a crisis management specialist.

“Corporate leaders have an interest in fostering a nervous sense of constant uncertainty, aggravated by the concept of never-ending disruption. Worse, some managers assume they must foment a sense of crisis to get anything done. Too often, it’s just an easy excuse for self-inflicted failures.”

While “crisis” may be too strong a word to use every time something untoward happens in corporate life, the most effective way to reduce the impact of a genuine crisis is to have a tried and tested crisis plan.

Crisis Readiness

A 2015 survey into crisis readiness, featuring contributions from more than 300 global executives revealed that only:

  • 50 percent of companies evaluated key crisis scenarios.
  • 50 percent of companies assessed their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT analysis)
  • 43 percent of companies evaluated “worst case scenarios.”
  • 41 percent of companies engaged stakeholders in analysing specific scenarios.
  • The areas most affected by previous crises were: company reputation/worker morale (48 percent of companies), sales (41 percent), productivity (39 percent), leadership reputation (33 percent), share price/regulatory or legal action (28 percent), customer loyalty (27 percent), and supply chain/talent attraction/retention (26 percent).

Coping with a Crisis

The key to coping with any crisis is to eliminate the element of surprise. This means taking time to consider potential crises that could affect your organization. The topics identified in the Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu survey could be an excellent starting point.

Doing this can make everyone feel more confident about coping with a crisis, and it can highlight where a change in approach or procedure could avert a potential crisis. In any case, you can plan a response while not being under the pressure of a “live” situation. This includes preparing “holding statements” – designed for use immediately a crisis breaks.

Hugo Heij, a former senior executive in the ports industry, now an international speaker and coach, recalled a time when effective crisis planning proved invaluable. He said, “When it snowed in the U.K., in December 2009, my company in Tilbury reviewed the situation and came up with a crisis management plan, never expecting to use it. Yet, just three weeks later, we needed that plan. While the rest of the Port of Tilbury came to a standstill, we operated normally. It was a big learning experience for me!”

Establishing a Crisis Team

It’s crucial that organizations set up crisis management teams. These teams should also include trusted and effective communicators, to manage the information that needs to be made available to staff and other stakeholders, such as customers and suppliers, and to handle media enquiries and statements.

Heij said, “While it’s a good idea to have a crisis team, everyone in the organization must take ownership for helping it get out of its existing crisis.

“Take the British Airways IT failure in the spring of 2017, for example. While it was the IT department’s responsibility to overcome the main problem, all the company’s staff should have been carrying out strategies to minimize the effects for the airline’s customers.”

Notification, Monitoring and Assessment

Organizations need to put in place a system that’ll notify their stakeholders and alert the crisis team as soon as a serious incident happens.

They also need a system to monitor what the media may be reporting, and to monitor what external and internal stakeholders, including employees, are saying.

The situation, and the crisis team’s on-going response, should be reviewed in “real time.” This is best done outside the crisis team itself, as it will likely be stretched to the limit managing the situation itself.

Once the crisis is resolved, it’s time to reflect on the response and outcomes. Questions to ask include, “What did we learn from this whole event? What went right, and what went wrong? What can we do better, next time?”

Heij says, “After a crisis, or even a near miss, it’s important to review what happened, or nearly happened, so you can avoid it happening again. This happens as a matter of course in the aviation industry, but in other industries, for example the medical profession, crises tend to try to be swept under the carpet. Such a strategy can’t be good for that industry’s professionals or their customers.”

Key Points

When it comes to crisis management, the biggest mistake that any organization can make is to believe that, “it can’t happen to us.”

Saving on crisis management-related L&D activities is as false an economy as saving on any vital corporate L&D activity. Just think how expensive – and disastrous – it will be when the inevitable crisis comes, with your organization unprepared for it.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields required.

View our Privacy Policy.