Are you prepared for a crisis?

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A crisis can hit anyone at any time and can cover the full gamut of issues, from organisational restructures and product recalls to criminal allegations or natural disasters.

It is almost impossible to avoid a crisis situation, however, being prepared is the best way to minimise the fallout and subsequent damage to an organisation’s reputation.

The common response for many organisations when faced with a sudden or unexpected crisis is to go into ‘panic mode’, purely because no one knows how to deal with it or what to do next. It is for this very reason that all organisations should have a crisis management strategy in place and a policy for all staff, with clearly defined roles for employees at all levels.

A policy should include a step-by-step process for staff to follow in the event a crisis does hit. Importantly, this needs to be communicated to all staff to ensure they understand their roles and what they are and aren’t authorised to do, such as speaking to the media and responding to customer concerns. Having a consistent and unified approach to your responses will go a long way to preserving the public profile and reputation of your business.

Take the following case study:

Earlier this month, a nine year old boy in the United States talked his way through three levels of airport security and boarded a plane at the Minneapolis Airport without a ticket. Not only was this embarrassing for security staff, as well as the airline involved, it also added media pressure on what is supposedly one of the tightest security areas in America and exposed that more than one security staff member had not been adequately trained.

Despite this, the media fallout was relatively minor and it was evident from the way the airport responded to the event that they had a crisis strategy in place. The spokesperson for the airport moved quickly to gather the facts and to communicate these openly and transparently to the media. He acknowledged it was a rare case and, not to downplay the seriousness, he conceded the incident was very concerning. Additionally, a full investigation was launched into the incident, demonstrating the airport’s commitment to responding to the crisis responsibly and immediately.

Having a crisis management strategy and policy can assist with alleviating negative media and preserve reputation. However, seasoned companies are still getting it wrong and creating their own crisis situations as highlighted in the following case study.

Earlier this month Wallmart fired an employee who came to the aid of a female being assaulted in one of their stores car parks. As part of the organisations policy and procedures, staff cannot engage in physical violence when on shift or while on a break. As soon as the story hit the media, there was a public outcry and calls to have the employee reinstated. The spokesperson for Wallmart defended the company’s position by highlighting that internal policy and procedures were breached resulting in the employee’s termination.

Wallmart did eventually offer the employee his role back as well as reimbursement of lost wages, to which he declined as he believed it was only due to the amount of negative publicity they had sustained – the damage had been done.

There is no silver bullet when dealing with the unexpected, but the general rule of ‘tell the truth, tell it all and tell it now’, supported by a strategy and policy for staff to do this could be the difference between a one-day disaster and a damaged reputation forever.

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