In business it pays to prepare for the worst, writes Ross Campbell, because it just might get that bad.
A financial crisis, a product recall, a critical accident. A crisis can come at any time, it could be on your watch and be a career- defining moment. Leaders need to hit the ground running and take control.
Not planning for a crisis can leave you vulnerable to disruption and create massive damage to the bottom line with loss of a brand and reputation. I have worked with corporate CEOs and senior vice-presidents during major critical incidents and can here offer a number of key imperatives to minimise the outcomes of a worst case scenario.
• Make sure you’ve got a crisis team
These are key personnel assigned specific responsibilities and given the authority to make decisions. Their collective expertise should include human resources, public relations, financial, legal and operations. They need a base to operate from and should be backed up with alternatives and resources.
• Recognise your threats
Anticipate the worst case scenario ahead. This allows you to respond rapidly when it really happens. Understanding the threats can prepare you to make the leadership decisions to save lives and property and prevent serious damage to operations. Your top 20 threats might include a transport accident, a major collapse of IT, a violent physical event, loss of utilities, a major product recall, kidnap and ransom and so on. Each threat needs a response process.
• Build a simple response plan and action checklist
This is the checklist of actions to give you a rapid and efficient response to each of your organisation’s key threats. These are the guidelines of what to do when you’re faced with an escalating crisis. The better an organisation is prepared, the more likely it is to survive. A good plan will also outline each team member’s role and responsibilities and checklist their actions, particularly in the first hour. This provides consistency in action and enables a seamless response.
• Test and rehearse regularly and rigorously
In today’s world of rapid media coverage and instant communications via the web and SMS, if you don’t respond rapidly and take the high ground, somebody else will. By running a rehearsal of your plan, you’ve got a real chance of taking control when it happens. Team members need to understand how the plan works and what they have to do to make it work. They need the experience to test communication systems and how they would response under pressure.
• Make people your priority
When a crisis does occur, an organisation’s crisis leader must put people first. If personnel are at risk, the priority is to make the situation safe and communicate with everyone. Good crisis management is about letting your people know what has happened first. Your people and their families are the priority stakeholder and you’ll be judged on how you deal with this.
• Be credible, transparent and accountable
The key to strong crisis management response is to provide immediate resources to get the situation under control. This may mean working closely with emergency services and authorities to optimise response time. Through credible actions, you can communicate effective messages to your stakeholders, which translates into you controlling the high ground.
No plan can prevent a crisis but a good plan can give you the tools for strong crisis leadership and recovery. Decisiveness is possible if crisis leaders are confident in their support systems and to achieve this, they must be ready to go within minutes.