“Crisis” is one of those relative terms that almost defies definition from a small business standpoint. I think we can all agree, though, that all businesses should have a crisis communications policy. Do you have one? Here are 20 key elements that should be part of your crisis communication policy broken down into a Before, During and After format for your consideration.
Leaders should be able to pull combinations of pre-set response “modules” off the shelf. -Michael Watkins
Your business crisis management plan – the 20 effective elements:
- Define what constitutes a crisis and get buy-in from key players.
- Set up a chain of command and define the roles. Who does what? Who reports to whom? Who speaks to the media? To the employees? To the shareholders and investors?
- Draft the policy and make sure you have the input of all stakeholders. Consider making the policy a part of your HR manual and discuss it during the onboarding process. This is a great way to get employees to be your eyes and ears.
- Practice possible scenarios. Experts suggest 3 to 5 different scenarios of varied magnitude, of varied markets and potential consequences.
- Have prepared first/initial statements: “We are aware of xyz and we are addressing it” goes a long way to building trust.
- Keep up to date with potential threats. Remember the SWOT analysis techniques? Threats are a main component to that and should be kept in mind as you explore, recruit and maintain clients and markets.
- Make sure that your spokespeople have public speaking training. Provide that training before a crisis happens– not everyone can step up when they haven’t had practice.
- Recruit ambassadors and influencers. Make sure that you have people who will stand by your side. Give them key points to discuss and disseminate.
During a crisis:
- First do an evaluation: what is the crisis level? Have you practiced/prepared for something similar? Do you need to bring in a professional?
- Be on the offensive, not on the defensive. Step forward and take charge. Answer questions before they are asked — have solutions, not excuses.
- Be humble and authentic. Admit mistakes and offer strategies to address the lessons learned.
- Be intentional about timing. How quickly do you need to respond? There are times when we think something is a crisis and instead it passes under the radar; that gives you time and more importantly an opportunity to be prepared and proactive.
- Call on your ambassadors and influencers. Give them all the relevant information and draft statements and social media copy.
- Have your own “command center.” One central location or phone number that everyone knows and accesses for information.
After a crisis:
- Establish a recovery plan. Bring together key stakeholders and make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding all aspects of the recovery plan.
- Create a detailed timeline to follow up with internal and external key players and stakeholders.
- Institute a proactive public relations campaign that addresses the threat and recovery.
- Conduct a comprehensive “lessons learned” analysis. Outline all of the lessons learned. Outline what was left unlearned and how to address that. Ask everyone for their take on the situation and the response. Ask what could have been done? Did anyone have a gut feeling? With retrospect, were there warning signs? The more you learn the more prepared you will be to spot signs early on and address them.
- Update your crisis communication policy manual annually: update names, contact info, training requirements.
I’m not wishing a crisis on anyone, but I firmly believe that an ounce of prevention goes a long way… not sure where to begin? Start by setting up a google alert about your business, about your industry and key players. Start by knowing your critics and detractors. Play the devil’s advocate on a regular basis: what could happen to make our best customer our worst enemy? There is a lot of truth in the adage “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
Share your crisis communication stories with us… what worked? What did not work? What lessons did you learn that you can pass on?
If you’re looking for resources, check out this Pinterest board for templates to use and other helpful information.