Not to be an alarmist, but let’s face it: A crisis can lurk around every corner.
From corporate data breaches and shareholder revolts to inner-city riots and product recalls, in a moment’s notice your business, your organization – your reputation, your brand – is at stake when things go very, very wrong.
And, boy, can things go wrong. We’ve seen poorly handled crisis responses – Tony Hayward of BP, anyone? – literally cost millions of dollars and careers. But we’ve also seen crises handled well. Some hospitals that handled the Ebola hysteria come to mind.
And so it’s how you handle a crisis that makes all the difference, even when the crisis did not start with you, especially in our age of instantaneous information.
How can you be ready if you don’t know what will happen to you?
- Plan. An organization of any kind should have a crisis communications plan. Not to be confused with a disaster recovery plan that deals with business continuity, this plan outlines what can go wrong, who will respond, and what some early messages are when media and other stakeholders want to know what happened.
- Practice. A plan is nothing without practice. I advise clients to practice their plans at least once a year to make sure their plan is up to date and workable in the event of a crisis. Involve as many people as you can because you never know who will be needed.
- Adapt. Leadership changes. Crises change. Facilities change. Adapt your plan to changes in your business and industry. Renew your plan to face ever-changing realities. Train accordingly.
You don’t have to be a professional communicator to plan for and respond to a crisis.
The other week I guest-lectured to a class of master’s degree students in healthcare management at Virginia Commonwealth University. For three hours I took these future hospital administrators through the process of planning for and responding to a crisis, replete with tips to communicate to media and other audiences.
They were wide-eyed knowing many things can go wrong in a healthcare setting. But after they practiced in videotaped sessions, I was emboldened knowing these future leaders would be prepared to face a crisis.
All it took was old-fashioned preparation and practice. And a video clip of Tony Hayward wanting his life back.
(Thomas Becher, APR)