A post by someone else recently reminded me that there are STILL major brands that are clueless when it comes to managing a problem, an issue, or a crisis.
When one of these occurs, they make up the solution as they go along, based on nothing other than what they perceive as common sense. As though there were no case histories, no recorded intellect on this topic, as if whole libraries have not been written about it, and as though there were no practitioners with crisis management skills.
People with high level skills in sales, marketing, operations, finance, HR and other areas, but no training or experience in crisis management, try to steer their company through what may be the biggest high-risk scenario they've ever faced. And invariably, they make very basic errors.
As someone who’s spent a lot of my professional life focused on this I do find that amazing.
Surveys over many years show that if you ask CEOs if their company could be exposed to a crisis which could threaten their corporate future, most say “yes, of course”.
If you ask the same group if they believe their company’s chances of surviving a crisis would be enhanced if they did some planning with a crisis management consultant, most say “yes”.
If you then ask if they have done any crisis management planning, most (you guessed it) say “no”.
And the fact is that many companies, at some point in their corporate existence, face some kind of problem which can lead to significant commercial damage or even threaten their existence.
If you work in crisis management, you see the results of this lack of foresight almost daily.
Some people assume that their company is only vulnerable to a few obvious risks, usually related to their core business (transport companies might focus on crashes, finance companies on fraud or data breaches, etc). But the evidence is that a crisis often arises from a quite unexpected quarter. Recently, some have found their futures threatened (or had to swallow huge unexpected costs) because senior male figures have behaved appallingly towards women, for example.
Good crisis management is not about imposing a “what if?” plan for a menu of specified situations (that will leave the company slightly better prepared, but only for the situations which have been accurately predicted).
It is about systems, to some extent, but it’s more about imparting a culture that allows early identification of crises; a skills set; awareness; and the ability to understand that crisis cycles are common to most corporate crises, in most sectors. This equips managers to cope better in any type of crisis.
Understanding how crises emerge, develop and progress gives a measure of control back to managers; it can help them reach the “recovery” phase of a crisis faster, having spent less money and suffered less damage.
Crisis management can’t stop you having a crisis, it just enables you to get through it more effectively.
There have been many corporate crises in the world and lots of them have been documented in detail and studied by academics.
There are common threads to all of them and this accumulated knowledge allows managers to chart a course through a crisis which is best for their company. It gives managers a set of principles which can guide every decision irrespective of the company’s core business and the sector in which it operates.
It makes companies better able to detect a crisis early and manage it professionally whilst the exposure to damage is still limited; it makes them more resilient if a crisis does strike; it gives them surer decision making, so they don’t come across like rabbits in the headlights; it gives them greater confidence; it reduces the nasty surprises; and it helps them to cope with the pressure when their company is under greater scrutiny than ever before.
It’s not just the media. Regulators, clients / customers, politicians, competitors, disgruntled suppliers and ex-employees, trades unions and pressure groups, social media, self-anointed ‘commentators’ and ‘experts’ – it’s amazing who will come out of the wood work to talk about a company once a crisis strikes, and it’s amazing how many others will attempt to take advantage of the company’s misfortune.
Managers can be trained and prepped to cope with all of this more effectively.
But as the post which sparked this showed, there are still major global brands out there who would rather not do that.
What they’d rather do, is hope for the best, and if the worst happens, make it up as they go along.
Thankfully, in the 21st Century, they're a declining breed.
If you’d like an informal discussion about your organisation’s ability to withstand a crisis, and how that can be improved, please get in touch.