Every organisation is at risk of a crisis. This has been dramatically proven over the last two years with the COVID-19 pandemic and so much more. Unfortunately, situations like this can’t be simply ignored while you hope for the best. Problems don’t go away on their own. You need to address them.
The days of burying your head in the sand and hoping the problem will go away are long gone. If you don’t work towards finding a solution, you end up suffering more. This has been proven by brands like Volkswagen, Chipotle, FIFA, and Lance Armstrong.
Imagine your business enters a time of crisis. What do you do? Who and what is affected? The more businesses you look at, the more you see that there are so many businesses not prepared for the worst, and if, or more accurately when, these times strike, it hits hard.
Leaders lose control. Investors and stakeholders become confused, stressed, and panicked. The employee base doesn’t know what’s going on. Even in a best-case scenario, things get rocky and hard to manage without proper organisation. In the worst, the business suffers heavy losses, financially and through their reputation, and may even terminate entirely.
It’s your job to ensure that doesn’t happen, and it all starts with optimising how you communicate your messages throughout your business. We’re going to break it down into several simple steps that you should start thinking about now, preparing yourself for any worst-case scenario, ultimately helping you to see yourself through to the other side.
Setting Your Foundations
What goes up must come down. When things are good in your business, the last thing you want to think about is losing everything you’ve worked hard for. No one wants to imagine their business falling apart, but if you don’t, how can you prevent it from happening if you don’t?
As soon as possible, you need to gather the important decision-makers within your business and start brainstorming. You need to think about all the potentially viable crises that could affect your business, list them out, and basically come up with solutions you can quickly put in place if you ever find yourself in that position.
In other circumstances, you may know crisis is coming because you generate it yourself, such as laying off people or making a significant purchase. In cases like this, think about how you can cut back in places or make changes that will ensure you can keep operating at a profitable and sustainable level.
However, what happens if an unexpected problem takes place like multiple staff leaving or falling ill and needing time off. What happens if you have a logistics breakdown and it backs up your production and shipping lines, and your customers suffer for it?
By highlighting the potentially biggest problems in your business, the results of this investigation will form the foundation of your crisis response plan, a custom strategy that applies individually to your specific business and will cater to your own needs.
Get the Right People
With your problems identified, it’s time to get the right people up to the task of taking control if you ever find yourself in a crisis. You want to identify a small group of executive people that have the power to make decisions when they need to be made.
For larger companies, the team should be managed by a CEO, and you need to be working alongside your public relations executives. Your reputation may well and truly be on the line, especially if a mistake or misjudgment has been made, and addressing the public opinion rapidly and effectively is key to overcoming the crisis.
In fact, this point is so important that even if you have an in-house PR team, you may want to hire an independent contractor or consultant if you don’t believe your own team is experienced enough. Some crises can literally break businesses apart so quickly you won’t even know what’s hit you. Of course, this is contextual to your business and the situation, but it’s never impossible.
You’ll then need to think about staff and how you’re going to communicate internally as well. You need your best messages clued upon what they need to do. When a crisis hits, every area of your business will be affected, so don’t just leave an area untouched.
Select a Front Person
As a rule of thumb, every business should already have a spokesperson. This is the person who is trained and capable of speaking out to the public, addressing the concerns, answering the questions, and basically becomes the face of your business during a time of crisis.
A spokesperson will be someone who’s been pre-screened and trained to be the primary and/or backup spokespersons for various communication channels. This person needs to be diverse. For example, it requires a different kind of person to stand up in front of 1000 people than it does to commit and perform well in an on-camera 1-on-1 interview.
This is especially important since we’re in the age of social media, meaning that it’s so easy to comment or post a story or video and have it been a mistake. You need someone who can stay calm, collected, and focused on the task at hand and what result they want to achieve.
Get Your Communication Channels in Check
Back in the day, the only method to get in touch with someone quickly was to call or fax them, assuming the people on the other end were available to receive either? We’re living in a hyper-connected world nowadays, and there are endless ways you can instantly get in touch with people, no matter where they are in the world.
This means there’s no excuse when it comes to keeping important people in the loop when a crisis occurs. This includes both internal and external stakeholders, managers, employees, the public, the media, and more. However, while there are many options, you don’t have time in a crisis to muck around figuring out how to get in touch.
You just need to do it, which means you need to be proactive in getting your communication systems and channels in order, so they’re up and ready to roll. Perhaps you even have a dedicated crisis channel or messaging thread you’ll only use when the time arises. Of course, this means you need to make sure everyone will be notified and have access to the channel because you’ll need to act fast.
Some channels to consider include;
- Phone numbers
- Instant messaging
- Slack or Discord channels
- Online interwebs
- Social media platforms
This is always important for identifying the channels you’ll use to connect with the public, your customers, and the media. The more organised you can be, the quicker you can take action and just get on with solving the problems.
Monitor the Problem
The problem with crises is that they typically never stay as what they start out like. For example, if you have a faulty product batch and you need to recall a whole batch of products because it’s dangerous (say a contaminated food product), a regulations body may force an inspection of your facilities, highlighting a new problem with health and safety or the way you operate.
Now, very quickly, you’re dealing with two problems, and things can get out of control very quickly. This is why it’s essential to have a way to monitor and keep an eye on the problems you’re dealing with. This goes back to being organised. You can only solve problems when you have the information to solve them, and this means monitoring the situation and keeping on top of the facts.
What’s more, you can be sure your stakeholders and higher-ups are going to want to know what’s going on. How you monitor a problem will depend on the problem itself, but you need to plan what kind of problem you’re dealing with and then have tools in place to track the changes.
For example, if you’re dealing with a PR problem, you’ll use tools like Google Alerts to track the trends of what the public opinion is on your business and how it’s changing over time.
Assessing the Situation Post-Crisis
If you follow through with these tips, you should actively see improvements in how you handle a crisis situation. I won’t touch on how to deal with each individual crisis because there’s an infinite number of ways something could happen to each individual business.
However, communication-wise, these should be all the tips you need to know when it comes to handling, dealing and overcoming the situation. Nevertheless, the last step you need to take is after the crisis has taken place, and that’s assessing how you dealt with the situation.
This means figuring out what you did well, what you didn’t do so well on, and how you will be better the next time a crisis situation comes around. This means having meetings and genuinely critiquing your business’s approach to the situation.
While no business wants to be in a crisis situation, and fingers crossed you never have to go through one, there are going to be problems from time to time, and being prepared and expecting the worst can save your skin and help you overcome the problems in the most effective and beneficial way, hopefully leaving your business stronger and more secure than it was in the beginning.
However, the most important takeaway you need to be thinking about is being proactive. Problems never just disappear on their own, and if left unchecked, the chances are they’ll just get worse. Get grounded and take control, and your business can overcome anything.