Worried About Managing a Company Crisis? Take These 4 Proactive Steps

Do advance planning and you'll be able to bring structure, organization and calm if a disaster strikes your firm.

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By Patrick Proctor

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There is an old adage that goes like this "Manage the crisis or it will manage you." I have allowed that haunting threat to motivate me when it comes to corporate crisis planning.

As much as we try our best to prepare for the unexpected it is impossible to plan for all the contingences that could strike a business, especially a startup. Kraft Foods found this out last summer when it launched its rainbow cookie campaign in support of Gay Pride month. It was not well-received. There was an uproar and the back peddling required to exit that nightmare had to be on point and swift. It was, and Kraft, thus the Oreo, survived the day nicely.

Even if you cannot predict the crisis or when it will strike, you can preplan for one. Kraft bounced back quickly and decisively, and you can, too. The following steps will help you bring structure, organization and calm during a crisis.

Related: Turning Crisis Into Opportunity: 5 Ways to Deal With Hardship

Step No. 1: Create, update and complete your media kit. Hospitals have what is called a code cart, a stash of supplies, medicines and equipment designed to be completely mobile and to be used for the purpose of saving a life in a single moment. Your media kit is your company's code cart: It should be complete and update-to-date and all team members should be acutely aware of who is to contact the media, when it and how. If this has not been painstakingly written down in a policy that all are aware of, then follow up immediately.

The plan should be to communicate clearly and often. You'll have to decide if the company is going to own an error or explain it. You want to be ahead of the rumor mill and any naysayers who might your company to stumble.

Step No. 2: Consider the most common threats to your company. Since organizations do not get to choose their crisises, they must mitigate the fallout any way they know how. Consider the most likely kinds of crisises that may occur, given your organization, industry, geographic location and other factors. Here are some types of crises to plan for:

A facilities crisis involves damage to your company's facility, after an explosion, an electrical malfunctioning, a fire, water damage, a natural disaster or cybercrime.

An industry crisis is an adverse situation that has affects not only your company but others within the same industry or field.

An employee crisis could include a loss of a worker's life, employee sabotage, cybercrime or violence, a reduction in force, an illness that impacts many employees at once or a lawsuit affecting the work force.

A consumer crisis includes defective products, a product recall, an allegation against your company or damaging social media attention focused on your company.

A brand or image crisis involves unlawful or poorly perceived activities by executive leadership, rebranding campaigns by competitors that impact your firm directly or a lawsuit that attacks your product line or specific products.

Step No. 3: Know who your crisis leaders are. In a hospital, there are doctors, nurses and technicians who know how to fully maximize the use of a code cart. Likewise, your crisis management team must be highly trained and capable of performing well under pressure. Members of this team need not all be managers as some employees who perform the best under pressure are not supervisors.

In addition, you may have identified supervisors who do not cope well under pressure. This is why it is vital to assemble a crisis management team before the disaster strikes. Knowing who is assigned to tackle what task, why and when is needed for a successful response to an emergency.

Related: Taking the Bite Out of a Workplace Crisis

Step No. 4: Communicate internally thoroughly and frequently. Team communication is key here, as your employees will either help or hinder your efforts with the public (even though you will have appointed a media spokesperson, the news media will talk to anyone on your team who will talk to them. If reporters have good information that's accurate and up-to-date, then that's what they'll communicate. If all they have is hearsay and assumptions, then that's what they'll report.

Moreover, your employees' hearts and minds will need to be addressed. You'll have to try to normalize the situation. You'll want to reassure your team that your company will endure and will be fine in the long run. It will be important to set up a communications hub for employee questions, concerns and feedback. Providing accurate and timely information to employees will be vital and as well as arranging a way for them to relay information to their families.

Supervisors will need to check in regularly with the leadership throughout a crisis, especially an extended one.

The crisis management team will also have to be prepared to help employees refocus on their job duties. Reassuring hearts and minds will be essential.

Planning for managing a crisis should focus on the effects and not necessarily the cause. Remember: A little preplanning can go a long way. Taking the time to reflect on these needs will better position your company for when a crisis hits. You'll be glad that you did.

Related: A Company Really Clicks When Mission, Brand and Culture Converge

Patrick Proctor

Vice President of Operations, Stash Tea Co.

Patrick Proctor is vice president of operations at Stash Tea Co. in Portland, Ore., and is an experienced organizational development, HR and strategic business planning leader. He writes about workplace issues.

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