Mastering Crisis Management:
A 5 Step Guide

By John Davison, Managing Director at F-24 UK Ltd

Why is Crisis Management important?

Crisis Management helps organizations stay prepared for unforeseen incidents and crisis situations. When we hear the word “crisis”, we immediately think of a sudden unexpected event, a point in time, a single, compact occurrence. But a crisis is anything but an isolated event. Every crisis is a process of events with differing phases related to the stage in where the crisis is at. However, while no crisis is ever the same, the phases that a crisis will travel through are almost always the same. By addressing each typical phase of a crisis with the best measures and adequate tools can make a substantial difference in overcoming a crisis situation and its after effects in the most efficient manner. Never has it been more important than now when the entire world is grappling with the pandemic.

What are the five stages of Crisis Management?

In this article, we summarise and focus on the five most characteristic phases of a crisis, examining how to best act in each phase by being prepared for the best possible response outcome.

Stage 1
Keeping a Watch and Getting Ready

What’s the long-lasting impact of COVID on our industry?
It is the heightened awareness for the importance of crisis preparedness. What we are seeing in many companies is that they have developed a new approach to their crisis management, putting preparation and the capability to swiftly respond to changing circumstances at the heart of their business strategy.

In fact, most crises don’t happen suddenly. Whether it’s a natural disaster, a fire in the production facilities, an IT outage, or a global pandemic, in most cases there are subtle early warning signs. Rapid detection of these signs combined with a well-prepared crisis organisation is one of the best measures to minimise the potential impact of a critical incident. It is important to recognise that monitoring, i.e. listening and analysing, is an integral part of thorough preparation. In other words: “Keeping a watch” is just as important as being prepared.

What does good crisis preparation mean and what does it look like?
Good crisis preparation means to create well thought out plans along with checklists and to continuously update these plans to the ever-changing circumstances that an organisation encounters. That is likely to mean the creating and amending of groups of contacts for co-ordination matters during an incident or perhaps to enable the creation of dynamic groups on the fly based on unique skills or qualifications.

Having up-to-date employee contact details is obviously a key factor to dealing with any crisis. Ensure your employee data is up-to-date and correct, ideally by enabling an automated interface between your HR system and notification solution. Define your crisis communication channels in advance, create and prepare for critical incident scenarios and enable these messages to be easily adapted and changed at the time of activation. Always be monitoring risks, be that through traditional media or specialist tools designed to identify threats from a variety of means especially cyber related.

Stage 2
Establishing a Communication Loop

Alerting staff, mobilising response teams, informing stakeholders – the mobilisation phase is about the need to communicate swift and fast via multiple means of communication channels. This can involve the notification of multiple crisis teams or updating employees and stakeholders with the latest information and company procedures. However, in crisis communications one aspect is often overlooked: the importance of two-way communication in crisis.

Whilst it is an essential part of crisis communication to get warnings and information out quickly and consistently on a broad scale, it is of unprecedented value to have a reply communication option.

Getting real-time information from teams on the ground, obtaining qualified feedback from staff members on their status in high-risk areas, knowing what the media are saying, having a good understanding of how third parties are affected – it all helps to optimise the crisis response.

For the mobilisation phase it is key to have the correct tools for the job and to not rely on day-to-day communication platforms, such as Teams and WhatsApp. They are great tools, but they are not equipped for such mass notification scenarios and might not be available when your own IT system could potentially be impacted by the crisis. Dedicated crisis communication systems are reliable, secure, and efficient, letting you activate your emergency communications response with the push of a button.

Stage 3
Making the Plans Happen – with an Auditable Log

The handling phase involves activating your plans and checklists. Here, your preparation work in Phase 1 enables you to efficiently coordinate crisis staff and distribute the appropriate tasks. In the handling phase, you need to be able to ACT in a coordinated way and at the same time REACT to the ever-changing circumstances. Therefore, it is not only crucial to have the ability to distribute tasks, but also to monitor them. Situation debriefs, initial and regular meetings via telephone conference, virtual, or in person are vital. Ideally, such calls and meetings are recorded to maintain the auditable log. Which brings us to an often overlooked activity in Phase 3: maintaining a consistent running log of all relevant events. Whether it is for external authorities or for internal “lessons learned programmes”, the handling phase of any incident needs to be logged in detail. Yet, setting valuable resources aside for this task in the midst of a critical situation that requires “all hands on deck”, often feels surplus to requirements.

Therefore, a process or ideally an automated system must record the incident and all crisis management phases. These systems should have operational running logs for every open incident where content will be automatically added, complemented by manual ad hoc entries for unplanned events. But what if you were to experience a sustained cyber-attack or some other serious business disruption, during for example, a COVID-19 wave? The ability to manage and handle multiple incidents is an essential prerequisite as well. The pandemic has in very tangible ways highlighted the fact, that we live in a global world, where major incidents can have a disruptive power causing multiple crises at the same time. Lockdowns negatively affect the supply-chains, broken supply-chains cause crises for producers, product shortages impact financial markets, and so on. Having the ability to handle multiple critical situations simultaneously is absolutely key.

Stage 4
Don’t Underestimate Going Back to (a new) Normal

The normalisation phase begins when you begin to recover after the incident, taking constructive steps including actions, tasks, meetings, and more notifications to stakeholders. However, the recovery stage is equally as challenging as the phases prior to it. Adapting plans and checklists to enable the return to a state of non-crisis, are key. Having the ability to be flexible and implement changes based on the lessons learnt in the earlier stages of crisis management are essential to the normalisation phase. Of paramount importance within the Phase 4 agenda is the need to communicate with the stakeholders about the “new normal”.

It is important to send information on the why, what, and how of the post-crisis situation out in a timely, secure, and consistent form via multiple channels. With regards to complex crisis situations like the pandemic, it will be crucial to take the perspective of your target groups and communicate accordingly. Communicating new rules across many channels will reinforce the message. Also, these new rules will take time to implement, and they will need continual refinement.

Stage 5
Never Waste the Experience of a Crisis

Lastly, the evaluation phase. This is where having a comprehensive auditable log and a series of reports adds priceless value to your crisis management framework. Even more so when you have multiple incidents running all at potentially different stages of crisis management. These logs and reports let you promptly and efficiently demonstrate the measures undertaken for internal or external audit purposes. Also, they are the best basis to draw on the lessons learnt, because they provide clear, genuine, and un-biased insights into highly emotional situations.

Evaluating the crisis response in detail enables companies to refine their crisis management and consider implementing further changes to the plans and checklists to adopt new rules and legislation. Furthermore, in the evaluation phase it is important to reassess the risks on the business and think about adjusting the measures and tools used in each phase – starting with adding potential new risks to observe during the phase where you keep watch and get ready.

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