Effective crisis communications includes means having a plan in place to deal with an emergency BEFORE the emergency hits. You don’t necessary need to think of every possible crisis, but you should have some basic fire drill procedures in place in case of a corporate crisis or a scandal or some other eventuality. That includes establishing a protocol to designate a leader in time of crisis. You need to find someone who has a clear head and can deal with the crisis clearly and efficiently. However, your designated hitter may not be available when you need them. So you need to have a pinch hitter ready when you need him or her. If you have a smaller organization and the boss becomes unavailable, it’s even more important to have a responsible alternative spokesperson at the ready.
I saw a blog post this week from Jamillah Warner posted on Small Business Trends who offers a “3 Steps to Developing an Emergency Chain of Command for Your Business.” Jamillah offers a solid formula for establishing an emergency protocol quickly and efficiently that mirrors the best practices I recommend to my clients.
Step 1: Define the emergency.
This is not as easy as it sounds. It’s simple to think of fire, flood, pestilence, and other natural disasters, since they affect everyone. But it isn’t a real crisis unless there is a victim, or someone who has been perceived to have been harmed in some way. And by their nature, a crisis just happens; you can’t plan for it. So you need to be prepared for any eventuality. When the crisis strikes, you need to have an emergency plan ready, and a spokesperson in place to allay the fears of your customers and deal with the media.
Step 2. Choose your leaders before you need them.
When a crisis hits, you don’t want to waste time trying to sort out how to react. Any hesitation is seen as a failure or a chance to “cover up,” whether there is wrongdoing or not. It’s better to assign responsibility in advance. Choose your crisis leaders, define their roles, and train them in advance. And keep the information fresh with regular reminders and meetings. This transfers responsibility to those who need to be prepared should a crisis arise, and makes them feel ready.
Step 3. Practice, practice, and practice some more.
There is a reason why fire marshals insist on regular fire drills and emergency services train using mock disasters. It’s because practice makes perfect. Review possible crisis scenarios. Explore appropriate procedures and responses. Let people practice how to respond to an emergency. If you practice regularly, you give your leaders a chance to grow comfortable with handling any type of emergency. You also imprint positive habits and make it easier for the staff to rise to meet the challenge of an emergency. And if you choose the wrong crisis managers, then drills will reveal any problems and give you a chance to correct those problems or find a new leader.
Crisis communications is too often overlooked, especially by smaller businesses who don’t think they need to be prepared. Everyone needs to be prepared in case of an emergency. Your business could be hit by fire, theft, fraud, or any number of things, and without a crisis plan, the impact could cost your business. You can start by designating the right people to handle emergencies so you can protect your operation.