Blog Post

Crisis & Response

In every crisis, the case studies shared recently demonstrate that speed is now critical in effective crisis management whether the event is large or small. It is an important reminder that in these days of ubiquitous smartphones, everyone is a potential news reporter. If the CEO is ready to respond in minutes, the corporation has some chance of remaining in control of the storyline and developing events in a crisis.

This will not happen without preparation. These days if a company has not already planned for a significant crisis then when the worst happens there is no time to respond with more than a gut feeling. Maybe that will be right. More likely it will be wrong. A study by the Chartered Management Institute found that organisations without a business continuity plan in place had lost more revenue, more new business opportunities and more customers due to business disruption events than those with a plan. Turning a blind eye to the problem and hoping the worst won’t happen is foolish at best. Assuming the company will muddle through somehow is naïve, if not reckless.

There are some straightforward steps the organization can take to improve resilience. These are not rocket science and should not cost a fortune. They will take some senior management time to focus, drive and implement attention. There will also be some discussion about unpleasant topics that some companies don’t like to think about.

Policy and System

It’s necessary to study the existing activities, work out what’s missing and build this into a Business Continuity Management (BCM) system. The next newsletter puts this into a simple logical process to follow.

Much of the work will have been done already but if this isn’t connected up it can all go wrong when people come under pressure. Clear policies need to be prepared around a crisis management team. If required, how will an incident be ‘launched’ and by whom? Who will be in charge of communications? How will confidential and non-confidential data be shared? When everyone is a reporter with a smartphone it is critical to ensure employees and others realise that certain data (information, photos, and videos) are sensitive and belong to the company so this needs to be part of induction and ongoing training.

Crisis Management Team

Most corporations of any size designate a crisis management team. This usually comprises senior managers who already have a full-time job but take on these extra duties when required. The crisis manager might be the CEO or might be a senior designate. This needs to be very clearly understood by the team. In some types of crisis, the CEO may not have time to sit and run the crisis from the Crisis Management Centre. {Refer back to the actions and behaviour of Tony Fernandez in the Air Asia situation in the earlier newsletter} Key members of the team are likely to match the existing corporate structure and department responsibilities. But for the duration of the crisis certain disciplines have increased significance. Corporate Communications for example, has unprecedented importance in a crisis.

Crisis Management Centre

Crisis management teams are more often than not geographically remote from each other. However, whether mostly based in one location or not it helps to have a physical ‘crisis management centre’ which can be the focus of activities. This is usually at the Head Office unless there are other relevant criteria. If the corporation has several crisis management centres, it is critical the roles and interrelationships are clear to avoid duplication or contradictory efforts.

There may be a dedicated facility but more often than not it’s shared and most frequently in Asia it’s the board room which becomes the crisis management centre for the duration. As a minimum, the selected room should have plenty of places for people to sit, good connections to local and international television channels and very robust Wi-Fi facilities.

Technology solutions

There are still many companies in Asia that rely on simple “What’s App” groups or equivalent in the event of a crisis. This is a real recipe for weak communication, poor audit trail and in the event of security breaches, disaster. Even worse, some comparatively large companies are even further in the past depending on paper systems and phones. Some of these old paperwork systems, which are effectively worthless in a crisis, are still pedaled by certain scurrilous consultants in Asia. These outdated techniques are essentially deadweight when managing a corporate crisis in the twenty-first century.

All large corporations, but particularly those companies with a multi-jurisdictional presence,  should have a pre-populated crisis management technology platform solution. The platform should come with designated call-out trees, response protocols and a fully auditable history trail. The best systems have mobile applications to supplement web-based management portals. The apps can be loaded and pre-populated on every important team member’s personal device via iOS and Android stores long before the crisis hits.

Other key technology issues concern how the corporation faces the world. Black sites are common in aviation and can be switched in as the corporate front page in the event of a crisis event. There is no reason why companies in other sectors cannot prepare similarly appropriate solutions for very small costs.

Depending on the nature of the business and the likelihood of an event more support will likely be required in other aspects as well. It’s difficult to be too generic but the urgent requirement for call centres to manage enquiries is impossible to deliver on the spot. Likewise responses to high levels of media and social media enquiries can raise more problems than solutions, if not designed and staffed with employees trained to respond appropriately.

A longer-term or more deep-rooted problem may require expert external support in corporate communications, legal advice as well as detailed input from several business unit managers and their teams. It may be necessary to involve and engage with a host of internal and external stakeholders. A long-term crisis quickly becomes exhausting so breaks and alternate designations become important to avoid burnout.

Fortunately for the CEO, the majority of corporate crises remain internal and the response – whilst no less important can usually be made in a more measured timescale. Or at least one determined by the company rather than driven by external factors.

For all external crisis management, the race is to engage and communicate effectively. Unless preparation and investment have been made beforehand these days the corporation won’t even get to the starting line.

Next time, what is a BCP and BCM