Hunter’s latest blog discussed the importance of planning ahead, especially for things we cannot be certain of, which led me to the topic of crisis plans. Over the last year and a half, I have worked on three of these complex documents for incredibly different clients — a food processor, a trade association and a nonprofit. While these entities are disparate in purpose and mission, crises do not discriminate.
It can be difficult to define a crisis — there are thousands of situations that can keep us up at night — though I think SPR’s simplest explanation sums it up well: a show-stopping, people-stopping, product-stopping, reputation-defining event that creates victims or explosive visibility.
So how can you best prepare for such massive, unexpected, consequential events? By creating a plan that specifically details the step-by-step process a team member should follow for each kind of situation that applies to your business, from a social media troll to a fire to an active shooter. One of the plans I created even provided flow charts for each event — who has the time or mental capacity to read a narrative in the middle of a bomb threat?
Thankfully, none of these three clients have faced a crisis since we’ve developed their plans, but it’s always better to be prepared than not know what to do when your hair is on fire (literally and figuratively).
Here are a few starting points that will help you get processes together so you can douse those flames and help your organization through the situation with as little damage as possible — and your reputation as much intact as possible.
Start and continue the discussion
While not the cheeriest conversation to initiate with your team, it’s important to talk about likely crises your organization may face — you shouldn’t wait until something actually happens.
I am a huge fan of repetition and working as you go. I recently read about how clean people stay clean (I live a truly wild life) — a trick is that they pick up after every task or at the end of every day, rather than all at once. I wholeheartedly believe this applies to crisis planning.
Start by forecasting the most likely crises your organization will face. Gather key internal team members as well as external advisors, such as your attorney, accountant, insurer and communications professionals. Be realistic in your assessment and be complete, but don’t worry about being exhaustive. Instead of overwhelming yourself with everything that could possibly go wrong and how to resolve every potential scenario, choose the most likely and focus on those.
You should also treat your plan as a living, breathing document. As you continue to discuss these topics, think of possibilities that exclusively apply to your industry or organization and make sure to update your plan and keep your team informed.
Collect the basics
Don’t know where to begin a document like this? Start by listing the kind of events you can foresee potentially occurring at your place of business. Physical or sexual assault, embezzlement, social media keruffles, weather events and bomb threats are just a few.
Then think about who will be affected by each of these events. Whether you’re a fortune 500 corporation or a mom-and-pop ice cream shop, key stakeholders you care about will be affected when you face a crisis. Think of all your stakeholders and how you will address them.
My last blog detailed that we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond. At SPR, we suggest starting internally and working your way out to the media. Your team should never learn of something pertaining to their employer on the 6 p.m. news. – they should hear it from you first.
As you work through and explore all these avenues, take your gathered codes, policies and important contacts and compile them into a book or binder. Print copies for your leadership team, give electronic access to all your team members and place them in common areas throughout your workplace. This will, at minimum, provide invaluable resources for anyone experiencing a crisis.
Stay in your lane
These are the times when you must trust the professionals. When the police get involved, know to step aside and let the trained officers, medics and firefighters do their job. These people are your allies and are literally in the businesses of dealing with crises on a daily basis, so do not be so foolish to think you can do it better than they can. While they address any injuries or immediate needs, think about your team and ensure everyone is receiving the care they need.
It’s also a good idea to trust your communications team and keep them informed so they, in turn, can share critical information in a timely fashion with your key stakeholders. By their nature, crises move quickly and can change suddenly. What you know at 10 a.m. may be outdated by noon. Establish regular lines of communication with your team – and trust their counsel when they advise on a course of action.
Train, train, train
Your crisis plan does no one any good by sitting on a shelf. Make sure to hold regular conversations with your team on one or two potential crisis and go over processes together. The more you discuss with them, the more natural your team will be able to respond in the event of the unthinkable.
Crisis planning doesn’t happen overnight. Each situation is unique, can evolve and requires a specific, tailored response. However, even if you don’t figure everything out right away, starting a simple discussion will give you a basic foundation to work with. Of course, the SPR team is always there to lend a hand — or a bucket of water to douse those flames and then help mopping up.