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Crisis management is an extremely serious business, which when mismanaged creates irreparable damage to reputation of corporations. That's because a crisis doesn't only affect external stakeholders such as customers and shareholders, but also the employees, internally.
The panic and uncertainty among internal stakeholders is heightened as they are forced to question each other at a time when cohesiveness is required.
It's therefore important to not only understand what to do during crisis situations but more importantly what not to do. Here is a quick guide.
1. Don't Delay the Initial Reaction: You may already know about the impending crisis or it hits you out of the blue. You may need some time to assimilate facts and investigate the matter. However, the crisis is already spreading. It's important to share an initial reaction, which may not be detailed but at least assures the stakeholders that company is taking it with due seriousness. In a recent instance of a MNC in FMCG segment, the delay in responding led to negative repercussions.
2. But Don't Just Say Anything for the Sake of it: While speed is important, it's imperative that you say something that you mean. In many cases not much follow up is done once the initial dust settles in but there is always a possibility that someone picks up your statement and asks what was done vis-?-vis that statement.
The message has to be heartfelt and empathic.
3. Justify but Only if You Are at NO fault: I have seen many instances in crisis situations in India as well as abroad where corporations try to justify their position. Going on an offensive and justifying may sound like a good strategy but you need to be doubly sure that there was no fault at Corporation's/ employee's side. However, even in those cases justifying may worsen the crisis as the stakeholders expect company to take control of situation.
Justifications can follow.
4. Don't Hide the Senior Management: If your CEO bats from the front foot when the going is good then there is no point in making him the twelfth man when going is tough. While there are many crisis situations in which crisis managers advice the CEO and other senior managers to not be on the frontline, I personally believe that this is counter productive. People ultimately respect the leader who leads from the front and is brave enough to take the blame if it's due. History has always admired leaders who have faced the heat and rebuilt the corporations strengthening their reputation.
5. Don't Plug Positive Messaging too Soon: There is tendency to include positive statements or company's focus on quality in messaging too soon after a crisis. Space it out. You need to regain trust in a gradual manner. Rather than sharing positive stories companies should focus on trust building initiatives.
The above are some don'ts to stop the crisis from worsening but my recommendation is to take actions to prevent crisis. The systems and processes of the organization have to be extremely strong and the moral compass of each and every stakeholder aligned with the vision of management to ensure that such situations don't arise.
My second recommendation would be to be prepared for crisis. A comprehensive risk assessment exercise should be undertaken and a crisis plan for each situation has to be in place. It will also be prudent to do crisis simulation exercises internally so that internal stakeholders know how to react.
I would like to end by reiterating that crisis preparedness and planning has to be done with utmost seriousness.