By Jonathan Hemus, Managing Director – Insignia
The pandemic has provided a brutal example of the damage a crisis can wreak on business reputation, value and stakeholders. Sadly, it will not be the last crisis, with cyber attacks, terrorism, major accidents and serious reputational issues as threatening as ever.
More than 25 years’ experience working with business leaders around the world means I know where teams most often falter in a crisis and which mistakes will have most impact on the quality of their response.
Here are my top ten tips for responding surefootedly to the most challenging of situations.
1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Your ability to successfully navigate a crisis is directly related to the amount of time you invest in planning, training and rehearsing beforehand. A well conceived crisis management plan provides structure at a time of great pressure; training gives you and your colleagues the unique skills required in a crisis; rehearsing your response to a crisis builds mental muscle memory.
2. Activate Your Team Without Delay
Make sure everyone knows who to tell if they spot a problem so that word reaches the right people as quickly as possible. Establish a process for notifying executives of crisis management team activation and set up a dedicated crisis management team teleconference facility and online meeting place. Be prepared to activate and prepare your crisis team at the first whiff of a serious incident. Much better to stand the team down if it turns out to be a false alarm than to forever play catch up.
3. Exert Team/Meeting Discipline
Time is short in a crisis so you need to use it wisely. Stick to your meeting agenda. Make sure everyone’s voice is heard, but not all at the same time. Be respectful of each other’s point of view. Be brief and to the point. Stick to the time allowed for the meeting.
4. Set Your Strategic Intent
You should never begin developing an action plan before agreeing your strategic intent. Strategic intent is a single-minded articulation of what success looks like. It could be as simple as ‘to retain the trust of our customers’. Having a clear strategic intent understood by everyone involved in your crisis response enables you to prioritise your efforts and guide your decision-making.
5. Determine Your Priority Areas For Focus
In a crisis you will never have as much resource as you would like, so you must choose where and how you apply it. You should explicitly confirm your priority area of focus to guide your first actions and ensure that teams at all levels are focused on the same priority at the same time. Reassess your priority area of focus as the crisis evolves.
6. Ensure Clarity Of Roles And Responsibilities
At a time when resource is in short supply, you cannot afford duplication of effort or even worse, conflicting actions between different parts of the business. Be explicit about who is doing what and the respective responsibilities of different parts of your business. Have people play back to you what they have heard to ensure the message has been successfully conveyed. There is no room for ambiguity in a crisis.
7. Conduct Regular Check-Ins/Re-Evaluation
Crises develop at breakneck speed so you must ensure your entire team remains on ‘the same page’. This requires regular, rapid check-ins to re-evaluate status, review actions and agree what needs to be done next. Without this discipline you may find yourself managing the crisis as it was eight hours ago, rather than the reality now.
8. Engage In Scenario Planning
Assign a couple of colleagues (your most ‘creative pessimists’) to consider where the situation could go to next and the worst-case outcomes. By bringing their conclusions back to the crisis management team, they can help it make decisions which will shape events in a more positive direction.
9. Be Courageous In Making Timely Decisions
In a crisis there is rarely a perfect decision; sometimes it’s simply about making the least bad decision. A leader’s responsibility is to make the best decision they can with the information they have at that time. And to do so without unnecessary delay. Always remember: the worst decision in a crisis is no decision at all.
10. Be True To Your Values
In a very public, highly pressurised environment, a crisis reveals whether values so proudly trumpeted on your website are authentic or simply corporate puff. Organisations which act contrary to their values during a crisis suffer the most damage of all . Your values must underpin your crisis response.
Jonathan Hemus is founder of crisis management consultancy Insignia and the author of Amazon number one best selling book, ‘Crisis Proof – How to Prepare For The Worst Day Of Your Business Life’. He works with leaders of businesses around the world to ensure they have the capability and confidence to do and say the right things under the intense pressure of a crisis. He has advised clients including Cathay Pacific, DP World, Gowling WLG, the International Cricket Council and Lidl. Jonathan was named as one of the IoD’s directors of the year in its 2020 awards for his work in advising businesses on their COVID-19 response.