If crisis were to strike your company tomorrow, would you be ready? Melissa Agnes helps organizations prevent and manage their issues before they become catastrophic, with the aim of never having them become catastrophic at all. Her powerful, customized presentations provide tools and strategies that create a proactive, crisis-ready corporate culture, ready to respond to whatever may arise. In this column for Forbes, Melissa discusses the important steps in preparing for crisis response:
I recently published a #CRISISREADY video to address one simple question I get asked often: what is the first step in successful crisis management? While I go more in-depth in the video, to summarize, the first step is to get the right people in the room to assess the extent of the incident and its (potential) impact on both the business and stakeholders. The second step is to determine whether it is, in fact, a crisis, and then to identify the immediate next steps for effective crisis management and response.
Who Are The Right People?
The C-Suite or senior management team is the core of your crisis management team. They’re the ones responsible and accountable for the organization’s response to the crisis, so they of course need to be present. But you also need to include key people who can give the executives the right information, in order to make informed and effective crisis management decisions.
Depending on your organization and the incident at hand, these “key people” can include representatives from impacted stakeholder groups, as well as heads of any business sectors, departments, regions, products, and or services that may be affected. You also need to include people from Legal, Compliance, Risk Management and any others, depending on your organization and the incident, to make sure you have all of your bases covered. This team will have a variety of perspectives as they each have different touch points within the organization, and it’s each of these perspectives that will help senior management understand the full breadth and depth of the crisis, and determine the organization’s appropriate response and next steps.
The Difference Between Being #CRISISREADY And Crisis Management
I received a lot of feedback on Twitter from this video, the most I’ve ever received in fact. But there was one reaction that stuck out to me the most. This person’s reaction was to basically say “Yeah, sure, get the right people in the room, but you can do that at any time. Actually, the first step is to be able to empower the team to enable a dynamic and flexible response capability.”
While this may seem like a reasonable response, I want to take a moment to make something very clear: this is not the first step in crisis management. Instead, it is one of the most important steps when implementing a crisis-ready corporate culture. There’s a big difference between the two— one has a clock ticking down, while the other is an ongoing process that needs to begin now, before crisis strikes.
The Role Of Empowerment And Trust In Crisis Management
Empowerment is a word that’s thrown around a lot, often as a verb: “we need to empower X to Y.” The thing to realize is that it’s intricately intertwined with trust: yes, you need to empower your employees, but to empower them, you first need to trust in their capabilities and understanding of their role within a given situation. Alternatively, for empowerment to be effective, your employees also need to trust in themselves. This empowerment and trust will have a direct and powerful impact on your organization’s crisis management.
For example, I recently conducted a crisis simulation with one of my clients where one of the biggest takeaways was that management realized that, while they were ready and willing to empower and trust their team to execute on the crisis management strategy they developed, their team did not trust themselves to do this. As a result, the team would not execute or implement any part of the strategy, without first sending every little detail to management for approval on a micro-management level, which frustrated management and delayed much of the organization’s response to the simulated crisis.
Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. And yet empowerment and trust is a necessity when implementing a crisis-ready corporate culture.
How To Cultivate Empowerment And Trust To Truly Be Crisis-Ready
Implementing a crisis-ready corporate culture requires, amongst other things, effective and regular training. I often say that you never want to experience a crisis, but in a crisis, you hope to have experience. The proper training gains you that experience. It also builds skilled and efficient teams, confidence and that coveted trust we keep talking about.
In my experience, crisis simulations are the best way to go about doing this, as they don’t just provoke reflection and dialogue, but also develop muscle memory and confidence as they actually require the team to do, not just discuss.
In the moments of a breaking crisis, you don’t want your team to have to fall back on the plan, reading it verbatim. The plan is there for guidance and as a training tool. You also don’t want your team seeking guidance from senior management at every turn. This will inhibit the organization’s effective response to the incident. Instead, your objective needs to be to get to a place where your team intuitively knows what external stakeholders need and expect, as well as what is expected of them from leadership.
On the other hand, leadership also needs to build trust in their team and feel comfortable letting go of the reins. The goal is to get leadership to a place where they can confidently say: “You’re ready, I trust you. Here’s the strategy and directives, now go implement them.”
Empowerment Is A Two-Way Street
What’s key to understand about empowerment is that it’s a two-way street. Leaders can direct all the positive, supportive, trusting energy in the world towards their team. They can do everything they can think of to empower them, but at the end of the day, all will be for nothing if their team doesn’t trust themselves first. And without that trust and empowerment from both ends, your organization’s crisis management risks being ineffective.
Are You Ready?
Does your leadership feel comfortable and confident in the crisis management capabilities of their team? And on the other hand, does the team feel empowered? Do they feel as though they are qualified to make difficult decisions when time is of the essence?
This deep level of preparation doesn’t happen overnight, but it needs to happen in order to have a team that can successfully navigate anything that gets thrown at them.