Crisis management is the process by which an organization deals with a major event that threatens to harm the general public, the organization itself, or the stakeholders of your organization. It’s important to manage a crisis before, during and after it has occurred. Before your organization can develop and form a crisis communication plan and a strategy to deal with one, you must know and understand what a crisis is.
A crisis can happen at any time; the nature of emergencies is that they are unpredictable. They can range from unethical behavior, workplace violence, employee fraud, security leaks and a natural disaster in your community to a member spreading disinformation. Crisis management plans are both proactive and reactive.
There is a set of basic crisis communication principles that every organization should have in place. The time to develop a plan is before any initial crisis occurs. Have a plan in place, disperse it to your employees and follow it. The three C’s of crises are control, compassion and correction.
Necessary steps to forming a crisis communication plan include identifying your crisis communications team, establishing notification and monitoring systems, knowing who the key people are that matter to your organization, developing holding statements and maintaining good working relationships with members of the press in your area. Adapting possible key messages to crises that could occur and sticking to them are also important. Having a solid system in place will allow you to deal with the situation at hand and not waste time trying to decide how to communicate. An effective plan will put you in control of what can be a very volatile and confusing situation.
The first person to be contacted should be the President or CEO. He or she should act as the ultimate decision maker and primary spokesperson backed by experts. Full disclosure is of utmost importance. Your decision maker should communicate early and often to key stakeholders. Do not release information before you have the facts; say so and then work on getting the info. Avoid speculation. Every action taken should seek to protect the integrity and reputation of your organization. Not acting in the best interest of the public is not protecting your organization.
Be consistent with strategies and messaging, but remain flexible as the crisis unfolds. It is easier to weather a crisis if you have spent time building trust in your organization with your members and the general public beforehand. Establish a goal for crisis management; what do you want to happen? Keep the goals of your organization in mind as well as your members. Creating an effective crisis communications plan can’t prevent a crisis from occurring but it will enable you to effectively weather the storm.