There are three kinds of businesses: those who have survived a crisis, those who were defeated by a crisis, and those who haven’t experienced a crisis yet.
More likely than not, you fall into either the first or third category, so here are some lessons and learnings to keep you from falling prey to the same traps that defeated other companies when a crisis reared its head.
First, gather as much information as possible and calmly review the facts — just the facts. It’s easy to lose your professional cool in a crisis, but the most important rule is also the most difficult to learn: don’t panic. Panic clouds the mind and provokes hasty decisions — or worse, no decisions.
Fact-gathering is an important component of responding to a crisis of any measure. Ask yourself what the extent of public damage is to your brand. This can range from gauging conversational capital on social media networks like Twitter and Facebook to taking inventory of news pieces, articles, blogs or other media coverage to changes in stock price. Conduct an internal review and comb for details that haven’t come to light so you can determine what the cause of the crisis was.
Second, once you have gathered information, it’s time to establish a plan for damage control. After you identify what the problem is and the extent of its ramifications, identify what action steps you can take to address the problem constructively.
Were there multiple contributing factors to the crisis, and have you examined all of the possible consequences? If your crisis is only beginning to gain steam, you need to broadly consider the trajectory of the next few days, or weeks, and get in front of future potential backlash.
Third, put your plan into action. Ask yourself: what are your options for responding to public concern, and do you have shareholders to report to? Is it something that can be solved through customer service, a public statement, or a press conference? Do you need to conduct an internal investigation? If possible, it’s wise to consult with a professional crisis communication or crisis management specialist who has experience in your industry or with your particular problem. Again, one of the worst things you can do is do nothing.
Now that you are empowered with the critical first steps following a business crisis, let’s review a few things you should never do:
- Don’t try to handle the crisis by yourself. No matter how embarrassing the crisis might be, engage a professional, but more importantly than that, engage your team. If you’re not sure what action to take, call a meeting with your key team members and discuss the issue.
- Don’t do nothing. It bears mentioning again: nothing is the worst possible thing that you can do following a crisis, or particularly when you can see a crisis coming on the horizon.
- Don’t wait for everyone to agree on a single course of action. Consensus can be a powerful tool, but it can also be the undoing of a timely reaction; that’s why ships have one captain, not two. While you are wise to involve others in the process of managing a crisis, you’re wiser to go to them for input, not a decision.
Finally, remember that the best way to handle a business crisis is to plan for one in advance. If your business manufactures consumer products, you should have contingency plans in the event of a factory accident, a product recall, and other potential crises.
Establishing a crisis response team within your staff (or, perhaps, identifying a crisis response team member in each department, depending on the size and infrastructure of your organization) and pre-planning for potential obstacles can save you a lot of stress — and time — in the event of a real crisis.
If you haven’t experienced a crisis and don’t know what to expect, get these team members together and identify possible scenarios for seven to ten possible crises and create maps for what kind of action to take and messages of significance; quotes from upper management and statistics can be powerful sound-bites in the midst of a crisis, particularly if you are dealing with the public.