The Role of Communication in Crisis Management
Every business has experienced a crisis of one kind or another. A recent survey of more than 2,000 senior executives spanning 43 countries found that 69 percent of organizations have experienced a crisis within the last five years. For some, it may have been a public relations or brand reputation issue stemming from a flawed product or unexpected service disruption. For others, it may have involved a natural disaster, workplace injury, or another emergency that impacted employee safety.
Regardless of the reason, organizations around the world regularly experience crises that have a huge effect on their people and everyday operations. These events, no matter the circumstances, put organizations’ emergency preparedness and response capabilities under a microscope. Those that navigate crises effectively can, and often do, come out the other side a more resilient organization. Conversely, those that fail to meet the moment often experience devastating and lasting consequences. As Warren Buffett once said:
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
So what exactly constitutes a crisis for your business? And, more importantly, what can your organization do to effectively prepare for and respond to a crisis?
In this article, we’ll answer these two critical questions, explain how you can create an effective crisis management plan, and explore the important role communication plays in keeping your people safe and your business running smoothly before, during, and after a crisis.
What is a “Business Crisis”?
A business crisis is any event that has the potential to threaten the success and health of a company by tarnishing its reputation, damaging its business operations, negatively impacting its finances, or harming its employees. Put simply, a business crisis is any event that threatens your organization’s success and safety.
From IT outages to outbreaks of COVID-19, a business crisis can be caused by internal or external factors. Due to the severity of a business crisis and the effects one can have on your organization, it’s important to be prepared to manage these events. The first step in creating a successful crisis management plan is learning the phases of a crisis and what to expect when the unexpected occurs.
The 3 Phases of Crisis Management
For many organizations, crisis management begins once an incident has been reported and stakeholders convene to determine the appropriate response. However, organizations that are best equipped to navigate a crisis begin planning long before the crisis takes place.
The first, and most important, phase of any crisis management plan is developing and refining methods for preventing crises before they occur. This involves identifying potential threats to your people and business, documenting your response plan (which we’ll talk about next), and conducting practice exercises for implementing your plan.
During this phase, you should also draft and review crisis communication messaging for the most common scenarios to ensure stakeholders are on the same page. Additionally, pre-writing these messages will help you save time and accelerate your response during an emergency.
During a crisis
This phase is when your crisis management plan is put into action. Initial crisis management messages are released, employees and stakeholders are contacted, and public and company safety is prioritized.
During a crisis, balancing speed with accuracy is critical. Communicating inaccurate information quickly will not only lead to more confusion, it could further exacerbate the situation. First, take the necessary time to get your facts straight and everyone on the same page. Once you have your messaging in place, a modern emergency communication solution, like AlertMedia, can help you quickly notify the right people—whether it’s a specific office, department, or the entire organization—via multiple communication channels.
When a crisis passes or subsides, your crisis management work is just getting started. Even if there is no additional information to immediately share, it’s important to remain in contact with your employees, customers, and other impacted stakeholders to demonstrate you are being proactive—particularly during crises that impact their safety. Again, make sure you have a reliable, two-way emergency notification system in place that allows you to get the word out quickly when a crisis occurs.
Finally, work with your crisis management team to review and analyze how your crisis management plan played out during a real emergency. How did your crisis communications perform? Did your audiences have any lingering questions or concerns that you neglected to answer? Integrate any lessons you learn into your crisis management process for future planning.
Now, let’s dive into the crisis management plan and how to create one for your business.
How to Create a Crisis Management Plan
Every organization has a duty of care to protect the wellbeing of their employees in and out of the office. When your people are counting on you to keep them safe from potential threats, your guarantee is only as strong as your crisis management plan. No matter the size or severity of a crisis, an effective plan will help you recover quickly and safely.
The 7 Steps of an Effective Crisis Management Plan
#1 Choosing to have a plan
It may sound silly, but choosing to have a plan is a critical first step that not every business takes. While it’s likely most organizations have contemplated how they would respond to a crisis, a recent survey of communication leaders found that less than half (45 percent) have a documented crisis response plan.
#2 Identify all potential threats to your business
Business crises will vary depending on your organization’s industry, size, and location. While there may be obvious threats to your company like a hurricane or winter storm, it’s important to envision worst-case scenarios so that your team can plan to meet even the most unexpected challenges such as active shooters, new government regulations that affect your operations, or illness and death.
#3 Determine the impact and severity of those threats on your business
After identifying all possible threats to your company, outline exactly how those threats will impact your business at every level of operations. Determine which employees will be affected, what damage and expenses your business will incur, and what the long-term effects of each threat will be.
#4 Consider what you and your organization need to do during each type of crisis
Once you’ve mapped out the severity of each threat, you can start planning your response. Identify the steps your organization will need to take to mitigate risks and come out on top. Also take into consideration who you’ll need to coordinate with outside of your organization, including first responders like EMTs and police.
#5 Determine who the stakeholders are for every crisis and train those involved
Different crises will require input from different people on your team. Assign responsibilities to stakeholders for every crisis and train them accordingly so that they are well-versed in your crisis game plan. As a best practice, you should also conduct rehearsals periodically to identify knowledge gaps and opportunities for improvement. Consider also cross-training staff on multiple crisis response roles to ensure sufficient coverage in the event one or more of your colleagues is unable to perform his or her normal duties.
#6 Develop response and resolution plans for every type of crisis
When stakeholders know their role in solving a crisis, you can develop a definitive response plan with less room for error. Developing resolutions for even the most unlikely of crises can save you valuable time and money down the road.
#7 Revisit and update your plans regularly
Finally, it’s not enough to create a plan and lock it in place. Fulfilling duty of care obligations and successfully getting out of a crisis means having the most up-to-date solutions and management plans. Revisiting your plans every couple of months can help you avoid blind spots and add new resources.
The Role of Communication in Crisis Management
Communication can make or break your organization’s ability to overcome a crisis. From a “big picture” perspective, there are three themes that drive the need for effective communication during challenging times.
Duty of care
You have a legal and ethical duty to communicate with your employees during a crisis should it impact their safety or well-being. You also have a legal obligation to communicate the dangers and risks associated with performing functions within your business (i.e. informing employees of flooding in their area and making sure they are not putting themselves at risk by driving to the office). Not only does this keep your people safe, but it also shows them you care, which creates a stronger company culture and can boost employee morale.
Controlling the narrative
With technology at our fingertips, expectations for organizations are at an all-time high. 15-20 years ago, there was no iPhone, no social media, and no way to pull up information about an incident on-demand 24/7/365. Today, people expect to know what is happening in real-time. And if you don’t communicate what is happening to your employees, they will likely turn to social media or speak with their colleagues to figure out what is going on—meaning your organization lost control of the narrative.
If you can’t communicate, you can’t recover
Ensuring the rapid flow of accurate information is even more critical during a crisis. Rarely does everything go according to plan during an emergency, which is why crisis response leaders need the ability to both communicate out information and also receive feedback back from employees.
Studies show that during a crisis, information is as critically important to people as food or water. Not only can accurate information mean the difference between life and death, but it can also provide reassurance that response and recovery are truly underway.
How AlertMedia Can Help
Regardless of size, every organization will experience a crisis at some point. But, with an effective crisis management plan and a modern emergency communication solution, leaders can influence positive outcomes and prevent these incidents from escalating. While not every crisis will threaten the safety of your people, they all pose risk to your operations and reputation.
During any type of crisis, emails and phone calls simply won’t cut it. AlertMedia allows you to go a step further and communicate with your people via multiple channels like text, mobile app, voice, email, and even business communication platforms like Slack—all at the same time. Taking a proactive approach to communication during a crisis can help de-escalate threats, ensure employee safety, and keep your business up and running no matter what obstacles are thrown your way.
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