Crisis preparedness is important. But is it essential?
Your organization may not think so and it’s easy to understand why. Preparing for an event that may occur is easy to put aside when teams are busy with what’s relevant now. Unfortunately, the experience of managing an actual crisis prompts organizations to finally begin preparing for the next one.
Developing the gold-standard for crisis readiness is more than a robust crisis plan or even sporadic trainings and simulations. It begins with a mindset change – across the enterprise – that reputation is a critical asset and a key consideration in every decision. But how does an organization shift mindsets and take the essential steps needed for effective crisis management?
Dr. John Kotter may have developed the roadmap. In his 1995 book Leading Change, Dr. Kotter introduced his eight-step methodology for organizational change. It’s an ideal framework for making a cultural shift to become more crisis resilient.
Below are the eight steps for positive change, paired with guidance on how to apply each toward your specific reputation-management and crisis preparedness efforts.
Establish a sense of urgency.
Many change initiatives fail because the organization lacks interest or actively resists the change process. Establishing an urgent need for change is less about developing a highly analytical business case, and more about using compelling and dramatic evidence that opens employees’ eyes to see the problems and solutions.
Organizations can start by sharing alarming statistics such as low customer satisfaction rates, brutal customer service testimonials, lagging safety performance, etc. Seeing new, alarming and tangible evidence will be more likely to resonate with employees on an emotional level. In addition, facilitating an open dialogue about proposed changes can get employees engaged in the discussion from the start and build a stronger sense of urgency.
Form a guiding coalition.
Next, develop the right team to lead the crisis preparedness change-making process. For reputation management, this is likely most of the corporate communications team. However, it may be necessary to form a broader Reputation Management Team (RMT) that includes emergency responders, operations, other subject matter experts and key leadership. The RMT will be responsible for ensuring crisis preparedness through careful planning and trainings, and then lead response efforts when a crisis does arise – whether it’s an emergency hazard or a corporate reputation threat. It must have the expertise, skills and authority to spearhead both preparedness and response.
Create a vision.
A long-term vision will serve as an ongoing reminder of why crisis preparedness is important. When employees understand the mission and purpose, then the directives they’re given will make more sense.
The vision should integrate with and leverage the organization’s overarching mission/vision/values, and each employee’s personal role and contribution to making that future a reality as part of a crisis team and/or RMT.
Communicate the vision.
Communicate from the top down. Start with a clarion call from senior leadership that includes the need for change, compelling evidence and a clear vision for the future of the organization. Leadership should communicate clear action steps, along with its expectation for the role each employee will play in taking those steps. For example, the organization may decide to add a new goal or metric to each employee’s annual performance review criteria that evaluates their efforts. Employees may also be asked to participate in trainings and simulations to test their crisis response efforts against organization-wide practices and protocols.
Empower managers to communicate this vision to their own teams as often as possible to reinforce the importance of making reputation a part of the consideration set in every decision. Managers should look for opportunities to tie any communications, requests or activities back to this broader vision.
Empower others to act on the vision.
Remove barriers or obstacles that get in the way of real change. Establish the appropriate structures, policies and protocols to properly respond to a potential threat or crisis – quickly and effectively.
The RMT, along with a third-party crisis management expert if needed, should invest time and resources in conducting a thorough assessment to ensure that the organization has the appropriate resources, chains of command, alerts and notifications protocols, and monitoring systems to effectively manage a threat or potential crisis. Look for any gaps in these areas that need to be addressed with additional resources, a more robust structure or clearer guidance that will enable all employees to take the actions needed when an issue or crisis emerges.
Plan for and create short-term wins.
Once an issues/crisis response structure is in place, engage employees through continual assessment and post-mortem evaluation of real-life scenarios, and the recognition of short-term successes. Encourage employees to share back examples of how they utilized updated systems to respond to an issue that led to a positive result. Not only will ongoing sharing build excitement and self-confidence, it will also provide opportunities to evaluate the effectiveness of crisis response structures and protocols and look for opportunities to improve.
In addition, early in the change process managers should identify several immediate activities for their teams to actively pursue. For example, departments could facilitate a brainstorm about obstacles that work against the goal of becoming more prepared for threats. Some teams may be asked to participate in a crisis workshop or crisis-specific media training to build on their current capabilities. This level of early engagement is critical in developing confidence in the change effort.
A true cultural change doesn’t happen overnight. It must be embedded so deeply in every employee that it is passed on to new employees and subsequent generations. Achieving this level of adoption will require continuous commitment and reinforcement. Continue with waves of changes until the vision becomes a reality. As markets, industries and organizations evolve, so too must their efforts to stay prepared for a crisis and protect the organization’s reputation.
Organizations successfully do this in a number of ways, including:
- Monthly/quarterly RMT meetings to brainstorm and develop scenario plans for specific threats
- Continuing education through industry groups to stay up-to-date on best practices for managing risks, trends, etc.
- Crisis and media training with communicators to ensure communications protocols are aligned
- Crisis simulations to identify any gaps in processes and practices for responding to crises
- Crisis post-mortem sessions following every crisis response to evaluate response efforts and identify areas for improvement
- Annual/bi-annual review of the crisis reputation management playbook to ensure it remains current as the organization evolves
Institutionalize new approaches.
A part of making sure a culture gets passed on to new employees is institutionalizing changes throughout the organization so they are part of the organization’s foundational mission, values and day-to-day work. Leaders must continue to support the change, even when new leaders join the organization. All employees must feel a shared accountability for making sure that the change efforts are passed on and built upon.
Organizations can do this by:
- Talking about progress, every chance you get. This includes sharing and repeating success stories or close call/crises that were prevented because crisis response protocols were activated
- In the longer-term, look for ways to quantify the progress the organization has made to be able to better anticipate, mitigate or respond to a potential threat or crises (Examples may include safety metrics, number of negative news articles, etc.)
- Include change values when hiring and training new staff
- Ensure that leadership regularly and publicly recognize and acknowledge the importance of the RMT and the work they are doing
- Reinforce the new culture through ongoing trainings and assessments
While each of these steps is important, it is essential to act quickly. Most organizations do not have the luxury of time to carry out the steps sequentially. Focus on each throughout the change process.
Creating real and sustained change does take time; however, with careful planning, a strong foundation and an organization-wide commitment, implementing a culture of crisis resiliency can be much easier and more successful in the long run.
For more information on this point-of-view, please contact me at (919) 424-7729 or Katherine.Mackey@Ketchum.com.