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The Four P'S of Good Crisis Management.
JCH Enterprises
Sunday, 2nd May 2010
 
Every single day you work, something could go wrong; this is true no matter what type of organization with which you are associated - a manufacturing facility, a service provider, a health care organization, a financial institution, a not-for-profit agency or a small or large business.

You read about it in the newspapers or on-line and see it on TV. Accidents happen where people get hurt or even killed. The environment could be damaged because of your operations or a transportation incident. One of your products could harm someone (or someone could allege it harmed them). A disgruntled former employee could return with a gun. A competitor or an unhappy customer could conduct a smear campaign that spreads like wildfire on the Internet.

There is a cartoon of an ostrich with its head in the sand while a big lightning bolt aims for its backside. The caption reads, "When you insist on burying your head in the sand, a lot of your anatomy is left exposed!" It is those businesses and organizations which say, "Nothing bad will happen to me" that are really pressing their luck. Certainly they are endangering their organization's good reputation, which can significantly affect their ability to attract and retain customers and employees. In the worst of circumstances, they may be gambling with their very existence.

A better approach is to sit down for a few hours with your senior staff - whether that is one business partner or an executive team of people - and put some serious thought into "The Four P's of Good Crisis Management." They are summarized here. A more in-depth article is available by contacting me.

PREVENT

Obviously, the best way to deal with a crisis is to avoid it, but this does not happen just by wishing.

The best organizations spend some time brainstorming on the question "What could go wrong?" They think through all of the crisis possibilities such as those mentioned above. If you put your mind to this task, you can fill up a number of flip chart pages! Move first to address those that are the most likely to occur or that would be most devastating to your company.

For each one, assign an individual to investigate what must be done to try to prevent the crisis, or at least minimize the impact if it should occur. Is there a new procedure which should be instituted, equipment that should be purchased, or training which should be undertaken? Yes, it may take time and/or money to do this, but spending a little now will prove to be a tremendous investment if it results in avoiding a crisis.

PLAN

You must have a written plan for crisis response. Don't be discouraged about undertaking this project. A simple plan is not that hard to do. On a sheet of paper make five columns entitled (1) Crisis (2) Those to be Notified (3) Contact Numbers (4) Action Items and (5) Responsible Party. While that form is still blank, make a lot of copies of it. (If you want a copy of the template for this plan and some more details on it, please contact me.)

In the first column, jot down the top-ranked crisis you identified in your brainstorming. In the second column, note those individuals (both internal and external) who would need to be notified if this should occur. Think of everyone who could be of assistance and those who would feel they needed to know what was happening (e.g., town officials, neighbors). You may need to talk to some folks ahead of time.

The next column should contain every office phone/cell phone/fax/pager/beeper number or e-mail address where you could reach those individuals, whether it is day, night, weekend, or on vacation.

Under "Action Items," list those things you should remember to do if you want to be perceived as a responsible and caring organization post-incident. For example, if you had to institute a product recall, do you have plans in place that would allow you to utilize an 800 number immediately -- and would you have people on call who have been trained to manage those phone calls competently and compassionately?

In the column "Responsible Party," assign an individual from your organization whose job it will be to prepare your organization to deal with this particular type of crisis and who must keep the information on the chart current so that it is useful when you need to put it into action.

Pre-planning is necessary for all of this. The media and the public will notice if you are able to implement a plan quickly and competently or if you seem to be stumbling around. And they will remember that impression long after they've forgotten the specifics of the problem itself.

PREPARE

Some organization leaders think that - just by virtue of having achieved a high-level position in a larger organization - they are prepared to take charge, make the right decisions and communicate properly during a crisis.

This isn't necessarily so! Good crisis managers recognize that it takes a specialized skill set to communicate effectively in a crisis - especially when the media becomes involved. The best ones are willing to call in a crisis communications expert ahead of time to help them refine their skills so that they will be able to perform at the highest level when the time comes.

In a full- or half-day workshop, the senior management team can work together on basic techniques like (1) identifying who their initial spokesperson should be; (2) following the "10 C's of Good Crisis Communications;" (3) recognizing the "Five Big Nevers" in dealing with the media; (4) identifying the most likely questions; (5) developing their key messages and learning to "bridge" to them; and (6) creating memorable "sound bites" that capture their messages in ways the media may repeat and the public can remember. Those involved in the training learn a great deal about how to act well as a Crisis Management Team.

PRACTICE

Olympic athletes and astronauts have to practice in order to be excellent.

Those who are called upon as crisis leaders should do no less. Even if business owners and managers are usually good at thinking clearly under extreme pressure, they may not be prepared for how intimidating it can be when the TV camera lights go on. Then, every once in a while, you should - without warning -- simulate one of your brainstormed crisis scenarios. Does everyone know his/her role? Is the needed equipment available? Are procedures in place? Do people have the necessary skills to carry out their responsibilities? Do the various groups coordinate as a team? Do communications break down? Theories of how to operate can be tested in active role-playing exercises which will challenge assumptions and clarify points that need to be strengthened.

Do whatever you can to prevent a crisis. Brainstorm what could go wrong. Put in place a simple, basic plan that will allow you to be organized so you can respond properly. Take the time to provide crisis management and media training to your management team.

Finally, put your plans to the test so you can identify your weaknesses in a low stress environment, instead of when you are in the midst of the real thing. When it is your organization in the glare of the media spotlight and you are on the "hot seat," you'll be glad you did!

JCH Enterprises is the firm to call when you want to be prepared to handle a crisis.

A JCH Enterprises crisis communications expert can put your organization's senior management team through an intensive workshop, complete with realistic role-plays where the focus is on the issues and concerns that could face them.

Being caught in a crisis isn't fun, but learning how to handle it can be. Many of our clients comment that, although they initially were hesitant to put themselves on the "hot seat" during the training, they found our methods to be non-threatening and even enjoyable. Even more important, clients feel much more confident that they could handle themselves better in the glare of the media spotlight during an actual crisis when so much is riding on their ability to convey the right messages in a positive way.

"Author of "Keeping Cool on the Hot Seat: Dealing Effectively with the Media in Times of Crisis"

www.judyhoffman.com

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