Crisis management planning is just one of the necessary preparedness steps that any organization should take, but certainly not an end in itself. Formulating a policy and procedures, and constituting a crisis management team, are essential elements. But the practicalities of handling a crisis of some importance can be challenging to say the least and may veer beyond the usual decision-making process.
So “decision making” – the ability to make decisions – under pressure and with limited and ever-changing information can often debilitate a team. Or even worse, create a “crisis within a crisis”. The timing of decisions is critical, and some will be wrong – “if only we knew of that earlier” – but delays in decision-making can be equally damaging.
Just as safeguarding day-to-day business operations is an ongoing priority, planning is needed to prepare for foreseeable circumstances that could range from relatively minor security-related challenges to others that have the potential to disrupt ongoing operations or jeopardize the organization’s reputation and possibly threaten the organization’s survival. Foreseeing a possibly damaging issue or situation essential and a Business Impact Analysis will point up the likelihood, frequency and potential outcome of multiple business challenges. But this approach, although essential, may be hard-pressed to identify every weakness and vulnerability that could constitute the making of a crisis.
In any crisis-related situation, the goal is to avoid an “if only” post-incident assessment, especially if the needed action was known, but not acted on for one reason or another. However, it may be that an effective course of action and the rational to pursue this only became apparent as the crisis developed. Many crises crop up without warning and some, unlike an employee kidnapping or workplace-violence event, will command immediate attention. Others, in retrospect, will lack the focus they needed: Threats and intimidations in the workplace may go unreported in the absence of a robust reporting mechanism, or the follow-up to address escalating supply chain losses may lack a timely focus.
But other actual or developing crisis, such as a business-related failure or an issue that is attracting wider attention, may be more difficult to spot, at least initially. Unfortunately, initially is usually the time to take the proactive steps needed to avoid further escalation. In some cases, everything beyond that point may be purely reactionary from one moment to the next. Crises can be internal involving the plethora of business operations that can now span the world, or they can by triggered by a third-party incident that somehow relates to an organization’s own activities. This type crisis may be difficult to spot, since the interrelationship may not be immediately apparent. Therein lies a major challenge – the identification of a “pre-crisis’ situation during which useful countermeasures can limit the scope and reach of a crisis (See: Crisis Management – Planning for the Inevitable. Steven Fink).
The primary purpose of organizational measures to address a possible crisis is to rapidly gather relevant information and to formulate the best possible response, bearing in mind that the information (and the decisions made in consequence) may change from one moment to the next and could in fact render the past decisions or actions meaningless. One important point. Self-congratulation for effectively managing a crisis may be premature, especially one that attracts wide media attention. A follow-up crisis may be another crisis in the making…