A Plan for the Unprepared: First 3 Steps to Take in a Crisis

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Todd Hansen

Companies that are not prepared to meet the challenges of a crisis first need to focus on understanding and navigating their own complex cultures. Different personalities, styles, interests and cultural barriers sometimes hinder organizations from quickly responding to crises within the first 24 hours. Here are the first three recommended steps to take in a crisis situation:

  1. Meet the organizational needs of your company: Companies often have not previously identified who needs to be part of the decision-making team that will determine the business strategy nor have they developed an infrastructure to receive multiple media inquiries and respond. They also have no established system to quickly communicate urgent messages to employees, customers, legislators and other key audiences that need to be briefed on the crisis. Gather your internal team comprised of individuals who will have responsibility for assessing the issue and its impact on your organization and managing through the crisis.

  2. Work through the psychological issues that may prevent a quick response: There is a well-understood reluctance to be the one who states the threat. The common human reaction in the first hours of a crisis is to minimize the concern because it’s hard to comprehend that it will quickly demand the full attention of the leadership team and the larger organization. In addition, it is initially uncomfortable to adapt to the urgent pace of crisis response. Once the threat is accepted, always overestimate its impact. Begin by defining the logical worst-case scenarios to public health and/or corporate reputation. While it is rare that a company will be criticized for over-response, many companies spend years compensating for not taking appropriate action immediately.

  3. Determine how the company’s values and culture will guide the response: The way a company responds to a crisis defines what it ultimately stands for, and defining a company’s values is a complicated process. It can be especially difficult to find agreement during a potential crisis. There is time-consuming negotiation involved. But once you determine how your organization will respond, a company must quickly provide a public response that shows concern and includes all verified information that can be released.

Your biggest challenge within the first 24 hours of a crisis is to navigate the organizational, psychological and cultural environments within your company. But by doing so quickly, you’ll have the opportunity to offer a thoughtful and quick response that may save your company’s reputation.

Todd Hansen is principal at O'Malley Hansen Communications. PR News subscribers can read about Todd's work on the Sara Lee Deli's Fresh Ideas campaign. Todd can be reached at Todd.hansen@omalleyhansen.com.