Crisis management: a few basic thoughts about who, where, how …

Akhileshs-election-war-roomPractical challenges with personnel, facilities, logistics and communication can be as important for a crisis manager to address as anything relating to the issue itself.

These are things ideally addressed in a crisis plan long before the balloon goes up, but whether in advance or on the day here are a few lessons from my experience of getting it right, and wrong, over the years…

Roles

There must be a designated team with roles and responsibilities allocated. There must be one person to be “in charge.” This should not be the CEO or most senior person in the organisation or that part of it.It should be somebody who can keep the person who is the ultimate decision-maker at arms length from the crisis team. This is for two principle reasons.

First because the management of the crisis needs to be separated from the ongoing running of the business otherwise the whole business becomes consumed by the crisis. And second becausethe crisis manager should be in a position to challenge “the boss.”

Space

No, not going into space. Space as in rooms.

A crisis team needs to have its own space, preferably out of sight of people not directly involved with the crisis. I’ve always favoured bunker-like windowless rooms, but that might be because I watched too many black and white war films in my youth.

AAF-I-33

Although that analogy is not a bad one. In the political world the centre of operations for campaigning and communications work is often described as “The War Room,” and I’ve used that designation for corporate crisis team rooms.

It helps to create the right atmosphere when a business is under fire from reputational bullets and bombs.

In two of the busineses where I led communications I had rooms set aside for this purpose to be taken out of mothballs when needed, but this is a luxury and only possible in very big organisations where apart from anything else nobody knows how many rooms there are or where they are!

It also depends on the nature of the crisis whether this the best solution. With an international crisis for example the team may be located in different countries.

Access to facilities is crucial and not as obviously to be taken for granted as it might sound. In my experience crises usually kick off  on a public holiday, at the weekend, at 3am, or all three, but rarely during office hours.

Although most businesses don’t work 9-5 anymore and many offices are open 7 days a week, there may be times when somebody locks the front door and turns the lights out and heating off.

The moment of crisis is not the time to discover nobody knows how to get in to the office.

Tech

Of course if the technology is going to fail, it will be the moment of a corporate crisis that it chooses to do so, but thinking more positively a crucial part of crisis planning and preparation (or on the hoof decision-making if there hasn’t been any) is to think about how to communicate (internally and externally), how to monitor media (traditional and social) coverage, and how to access data required.

In ancient times (well, 1996) when I was with McDonald’s, I decided we should withdraw beef from all UK restaurants to demonstrate “clean shelves” before restocking with “new” product during the BSE crisis.

As we had email technology in the offices it hadn’t occured to me that the restaurants had not. So we had to set up a phone bank in the office (ver a weekend and through the night obviously!) with employees who volunteered to come in to call restaurants to tell them what to do and then take a call back to confirm it had been done, before we could open up to media to film and report stories of what we had done to reassure government and customers (in that order because the government were a lot more concerned than our customers were!)

Thinking of such communication challenges in advance would have saved time, and did for the next crisis.

Contingency

All good corporate risk plans will include relocation of the business operations, but strangely I’ve seen a number which omitted the relcation of the crisis “War Room.”

It’s sensible to plan a contingency for running the crisis management from a new location if the most obvious one is lost. Similar contingencies are required for people and technology. An essential element of all planning and preparation work should be the “what if we don’t have …”.

As with all crisis work – assume the very worst scenarios imaginable, and then work backwards!

 

 

 

 

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