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10 lessons in crisis management

When bad things happen, companies can’t afford to just react on the fly. Successful management of a crisis requires understanding how to handle an event, before it occurs. Staying competitive in the marketplace means taking a more proactive approach to crisis management. Here’s how.

A matter of hours or days is all it can take for a crisis to destroy a company’s reputation.

Despite this, it’s unfortunately all too common for global companies to lack a formal process for crisis management. This means that when a crisis occurs, leaders are forced to throw things up on the wall and make decisions on the fly.

Though many organizations would rather react to a situation instead of plan for it, successful management of a crisis requires understanding how to handle an event, before it occurs. Staying competitive in the marketplace means taking a more proactive approach to crisis management. Here’s how.

Lesson 1: Define what a crisis is

What does a “crisis” mean for the organization globally, & what does it mean from a local perspective? What can often happen within global companies is that everything gets managed at the toplevel, without an understanding that risks may be interpreted differently at a site level or region. What’s perceived as a threat in Mexico City, for example, may not be perceived as such in Beijing.

Create a common language among your team to align everyone’s understanding of how certain words are defined by your company. For example, a “crisis” might be an event requiring the crisis management team to convene, while an “incident” might be handled locally by site leadership.Well-defined definitions allow leaders to clearly communicate the situation and articulate steps for action.

Lesson 2: Start strategically

Crisis management needs to be a part of strategic planning. Start at the top of your organizational hierarchy and engage senior management, so that their enthusiasm filters down.Once a global crisis management plan is built for your organization, roll it out across business units using the same framework, process, and materials.If you don’t have C-suite access (yet!), you’ve got to think of yourself as an entrepreneur to and figure out a strategy forgetting upstairs. For example, get executives to want to be apart of the initiative with a quick, compelling exercise that gets right at the heart of why crisis management matters.

Lesson 3: Fly the plane, or fix the problem

In a crisis, one is either running the business or solving the problem—but not both. Organizations must train their leadership teams to know their individual roles. Allowing team members to focus on either “flying the plane” (running the daily operations of the business) or “fixing the problem” (resolving the crisis) helps to avoid uncertainty about who will lead and execute certain actions. Even in the case of a very small and lean business, another individual should be identified as soon as possible to delegate one task or the other.In many cases, defining roles and responsibilities may mean simply formalizing an existing informal process.

For more lessons, check out our 10 Lessons in Crisis Management eBook.