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Stages of Crisis
Management

What is a crisis?

A crisis is a sudden and unexpected disruption that …

  • Interrupts normal operations

  • Requires an immediate, coordinated management response 

  • Is likely to require decision-making actions at the highest level of the company

  • Involves notifying agencies, neighborhoods and/or other outside parties

  • Has the potential to attract extensive news media and public attention to the company

Potential crises could be:

  • Fire

  • Explosion

  • Chemical spill or release

  • Jobsite accident

  • Groundwater contamination

  • Crisis at adjacent facility

  • Natural disaster

  • Product or service failure

  • Terrorism

  • Personnel-related incident

  • Layoffs

  • Office closing

  • Transportation accident

  • News event related to employee

  • And the crisis we are now all too familiar with… a pandemic 

Crisis resolution cannot begin until a potential crisis has been recognized. If the situation at hand is checking off one (or more) of the defining components of a crisis, it’s time to set your crisis management plan in motion. 


Crisis management in business can come with very high stakes: your employees, members, the public, and relevant parties are watching. Your response to a crisis has the potential to make these parties stand with you or against you. Proactively thinking through crisis management strategies will help your organization lead with confidence when a crisis occurs.

What are the six stages of crisis management?

The stages of crisis communications can be broken into three categories: pre-crisis, crisis and post-crisis. What are the basic steps in crisis management planning and readiness? The proper crisis communications lifecycle includes the following steps: 

  • Prepare

  • Crisis breaks

  • Initial response

  • Assess response impact

  • Resolution

  • Evaluate and evolve

Consider the timeline for conflict and crisis management. Not just the days following the event, but the weeks, months and even years to follow. How can you learn from what happened? Let’s further examine the stages of crisis communications. 

 

Pre-crisis

(Ideally, you will develop a crisis communication plan while not in a time of crisis) 

  • Monitor crisis risks: “What could go wrong here?” We mentioned a few potential crises in the previous section to get your ideas flowing. Unfortunately, no organization is immune to the threat of a crisis.  

  • Make decisions about how to handle potential risk: Reach a consensus on your approach, areas of concern, what constitutes a crisis and what the appropriate response is. 

  • Train people who will be involved: Assemble a team and have a kick-off meeting. Select the members of your Crisis Communications Team, define their roles and areas of responsibility, and assemble their contact information. 

Crisis

  • Collect and process information for crisis team decision-making: The first step of issues management is the analysis of the issues after they have become crises. 

  • Create and disseminate crisis messages: Assemble key messages and determine how to respond in the event of a crisis. Review how to deal with the media. Discuss how to involves employees and make them aware of corporate policy with regards to speaking with the media in a crisis. 

Post-crisis

  • Assess the crisis management effort: What went well? What did not? What did you learn from this event? What would you do differently next time? 

  • Provide follow-up crisis messages as needed: Keep key groups (employees, stakeholders, clients, media) informed with appropriate messaging. 

 

Surviving a crisis is much less stressful with proper preparation. Thinking through potential scenarios and responses with a dedicated team now will be a valuable future investment. 

Crisis management strategies

The best crisis management strategies all have an underlying theme of being prepared. Successful crisis management includes anticipating and preparing for potential crisis situations. While specific examples of crisis management strategies may not be one-size-fits-all, here are some of our tried-and-true crisis management strategies for businesses. 

Assemble a Crisis Communications Team

What is the difference between proactive and reactive management? A proactive team will assemble and think through potential crises before they happen, and a reactive team will wait for the event to occur. The greatest tip we can offer is to assemble a team solely dedicated to responding in the event of a crisis, and assemble it proactively BEFORE the crisis occurs. 

What will this team do? 

  • Take effective action in a crisis 

  • What will this team do? 

  • Take effective action in a crisis 

  • Plan both operating and communication response strategies and programs in anticipation of future crises

  • Assure the flow of reliable information between all staff, management and volunteers 

Who should make up the team? Your crisis team should include a diverse group of employees, including:

  • Leadership representation

  • Senior communications staff

  • Senior human resources representatives

  • Financial representation

  • Department heads

  • Legal representation

  • Chosen spokesperson/people

 

How should you choose a spokesperson? When choosing a spokesperson for the association, consider:

  • Who is the official voice/face of the association?

  • Who in the company/association has previously spoken with the media?

  • Are they media trained? If not, they’ll need to be.

  • Are they an expert on any particular topic?

 

Questions to consider regarding the internal logistics and processes involved in responding to a crisis:

  • What are the procedures for emergency crisis meetings?

  • Who needs to be briefed on any given crisis?

  • Who needs permission from whom to get things done? What is the chain of command?

  • How will crisis team members be contacted? (Make sure someone is available at all hours during a crisis).​

 

Be Consistent
Make sure everyone on the Crisis Communication team is familiar with the company’s values, mission statement, etc. A crisis is not the time to change your organizational culture and introduce new values or ideas. They’ll seem out of place and disingenuous. If a crisis brings to light something that your organization is lacking, such as an issue relating to DEI, this deserves thoughtful consideration and incorporation, not an on-the-fly damage control statement. In certain situations, the best crisis communication response strategy is an acknowledgement of an error or shortcoming.  It’s better to be honest and let your audiences know that you realize your error and are working with the intention to make cultural changes. 

Make Careful Considerations Concerning Crisis Messaging
What assets need to be created? Examples include: 

  • Spokesperson statements

  • Press conferences

  • Press releases

  • Internal staff communications

  • Social media posts

 

Additionally, consider who will craft these messages. A collaboration between the spokesperson, senior communications team and leadership is ideal. Once messaging is released, have some sort of media monitoring in place. 

 

Keep messages simple and factual 
Communicate early and often in your established channels. Now is not the time to try out a new platform. Establish expectations off the bat by telling your audience where and how often you intend to communicate. (e.g., “We will post the latest weather updates throughout the week on Twitter”) 

Do not speculate! It’s okay to say, “We don’t know yet” or “As we ascertain new information and are able to verify its accuracy, we will be certain to relay this news to you as quickly as possible.” Acknowledge the challenges in times of crisis and don’t wait until you have all the answers before responding - you most likely may never have ALL the answers. Source the facts you do state. (“According to the CDC…”) 

Is your workplace prepared for a crisis?

If a crisis hits tomorrow, is your organization ready? AOE is ready to work with you to build the optimal crisis communications plan—no matter what the crisis. For more information, reach out to us today and be sure to visit AOE’s Crisis Communications page.

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