Business Disaster versus Crisis
A crisis and a disaster are both bad for your business, but they are very different. A disaster is an event that results in great damage, difficulty, or death. A crisis is a situation that has reached an extremely difficult or dangerous point. A flood is a disaster. You should have prepared for that potential. Then you can deal with it according to your plan. A major product recall, such as Firestone encountered with its SUV tires, is a crisis. Sometimes it is hard to know whether you are really in a crisis, but failure to handle a disaster properly can lead to a crisis.
In a disaster, you probably will be on your own for awhile. The widespread nature of a disaster means public services like fire fighters, police, and medical assistance will not be able to reach everyone right away. So keep in mind these four key facts in your disaster planning: 1) disasters will occur, 2) you have to have a plan before the disaster hits, 3) react with urgency, but don't panic and 4) ride it out.
There are many consultants who will help you develop a crisis management plan. The Institute for Crisis Management is one of them. Its web site contains a lot of information that can get you started on your own plan. Crisis management means having a plan in place, having identified who will do what, and having practiced the plan for most conceivable events.
Many of us think that we are good enough managers that we can handle anything that comes up. We think on our feet all the time and often all called upon to make quick decisions on key issues. Don't kid yourself. A crisis, by its very nature, can be overwhelming. People who haven't experienced this sort of thing don't realize the pressure it creates. Make the smart decision and invest the time and resources to develop your crisis management plan. Michael Keating's article The Reality of Terror in the US details eight points that will help you prepare your organization for the worst.
No company ever expects to have to deal with a PR crisis, but most eventually do. It is critical that the company be prepared ahead of time if it is to survive. You need to develop a crisis management plan. You need to develop variations of the plan to cover any emergency your company might be expected to encounter. For most companies, these include precipitous stock market drop, employee misconduct, product liability claims, manufacturing or design mistakes, accidents, or a simple community misunderstanding.
The goal of developing your plan is to get your people thinking and talking about what might happen and how that can be effectively managed. The goal of the plan itself is to ensure your people have the tools to get the crisis under control as quickly as possible to minimize the damage.
Crisis Communications Plan
One of the most important parts of your crisis management plan has to be your crisis communications plan. You hope that if a crisis occurs that no one will notice and you will be able to just deal with the issues and fix the problem. Sometimes that happens. Other times someone notices and tells a reporter or posts it to a forum on the Internet and suddenly it seems like the entire world is calling you or knocking on your door or sending you email. It is this later case you must be prepared to handle.
- Barry McLoughlin has an excellent series of nine lessons on Crisis Communication. The unit titled Executing a Crisis Communications Plan is particularly good. (Note: These articles are no longer available online, but McLoughlin's book Overcoming Panic and Fear : Risk and Crisis Communications is available through Amazon.com.)
- Communications for Management (C4M) has a Communicating in a Crisis: A C4M Pocket Guide for Emergencies.
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