Crisis management planning is like life insurance; nobody wants it, but everyone needs it. Business owners must budget for risk management even when there is no sign of trouble ahead. Planning for hypothetical events understandably seems like a waste of resources. But, like a life insurance policy, not having one is far more costly.
Drafting an effective plan requires you address three main priorities when organizing your initial meeting:
- Who is coming
- Where it will be
- What to include
Select the Participants
A single individual shouldn’t be responsible for drafting your company’s crisis response plan. Conversely, a team may be as large as necessary to develop a thorough strategy. Include employees from multiple divisions and regions to lower your risk of missing important details. Furthermore, it’s crucial to invite department leaders, C-Suites and other top-level stakeholders. Many SMEs don’t have legal counsel or public relations teams, but if yours does you’ll want them to be present.
A diverse group of employees is better equipped to identify any and all threats to an organization. Risks may include natural disasters, foreign governments, data security breaches or an undiscovered executive scandal. It’s better to overestimate the number of people in the beginning and trim it down in the final stages. Adding individuals halfway through the process is disruptive.
Choose a Location
The office is obviously the most budget-friendly location to hold your meeting, but is it the best option? Consider the size of your team and the length of time you’ll be spending together. Cramped meeting areas with uncomfortable seating may cause groups to rush through the process. While hotels or resorts are expensive, off-site venues offer many benefits.
- Stepping out of your daily work environment can spark creativity.
- Meetings will start on time because the team is already together.
- Entertainment may help reduce the stress of crisis planning.
- Off-site meetings have fewer interruptions and are more productive.
The location of your meeting isn’t critical to producing a workable crisis plan. However, by removing distractions, stress and discomfort you’ll ensure a more comprehensive plan is developed.
What to Include in a Crisis Management Plan
You’ve finally gathered your team and arrived at the meeting location, but how do you develop a strategy? While you can’t plan for every contingency, it’s important to develop a framework for responding to emergencies. Your plan should be flexible enough to allow for unknowns, yet specific enough to be useful during a crisis. There are many variables you can include, but the top three points to cover are:
- Assessing your weak points
- Assigning duties
- Drafting a holding statement
Assess Your Weaknesses
You can’t build a crisis management plan without knowing your vulnerabilities. First, rearrange your team into groups by department or region. Next, individuals within each group should brainstorm potential weak points that could cause a crisis. Finally, give each group time to discuss their thoughts before presenting their ideas to the larger group.
There are multiple benefits associated with beginning brainstorms individually. Preventing groupthink tops the list because it’s essential to generating unique ideas. It’s also a more efficient way to explore multiple potential crises at once. Lastly, if several people arrive at the same problem independently it could indicate an important focal point. During the company discussion, it’s often helpful to categorize crises by type. The topics will depend on your industry, but it’s wise to keep them broad. For example:
- Company — problems within the company
- Customer — problems with customers
- Individual — personal crisis affecting executives
- Outside Factors — uncontrollable events outside the company
Once you’ve identified your company’s top crises, you’ll need to assign responsibilities to team members. This can be the most challenging phase of drafting a strategy, and many companies get it wrong. It’s tempting to build teams based on the type of crisis you fear most, but this is actually a mistake. For example, a business at risk of a data breach might staff a crisis response team with software engineers. Although the engineers may understand the problem better than anyone, they may lack the nuanced communication skills needed to control a damaging story that has gone viral.
Instead, divide the group into two teams responsible for crisis resolution and crisis communications, respectively. Starting with broad groups enables you to handle a much wider range of emergencies. Staff the resolution team with regional leaders and division heads. Your communications team should consist of the CEO, in addition to executives from human resources, legal, public relations and marketing.
Perhaps the most crucial role to fill before a crisis is that of your spokesperson. Don’t assume your CEO must be the voice of the company because not all great leaders are natural public speakers. An effective spokesperson should be comfortable communicating across a variety of media, including live interviews, television and radio.
Develop an Action Plan
You’ll need to take action within the first hour after a crisis breaks. Drafting a plan with several contingencies ahead of time will improve your ability to respond quickly and lower the risk of errors.
A clear action plan must include internal and external communication protocols. Be proactive by curating a list of support services in advance, including public relations firms, call centers and reputation management companies. You might also discuss developing a dark website or subdomain that can be activated during a crisis. Having a separate website is a great way to handle a massive influx of unexpected traffic that could otherwise overwhelm your business’s website.
You’ve completed your goal of building a crisis management plan, but that doesn’t mean your work is done! In the following months you’ll need to execute training and test out your plan with drills. There’s no shortage of public crises, so pay attention to how others are responding and update your plan as necessary.
You’re never really done when it comes to creating and maintaining a crisis prevention plan, but at least you have an insurance policy in place. Just like life insurance, you can relax knowing that you have it and pray you never need to use it.
Jonas Sickler been developing and deploying marketing campaigns for nearly two decades. His experience ranges from content planning for major consumer websites to helping businesses grow their online presence and protect their reputation.