I was asked this question recently at a workshop on crisis management. Before responding, my first thoughts went not to crisis management theory but straight to our company culture - was it resilient enough to see us through a crisis?
Because no company is immune to a crisis, to prevent ourselves from getting complacent we need to think about not only prevention, but also survival.
The three main stages of crisis management are crisis readiness, crisis responsiveness and crisis recovery, and company culture contributes to the effectiveness of all three. This is of course not to say that a strong company culture will protect you from a hurricane! But there are many crises that could have been minimised or even averted by a stronger company culture, and once the crisis hits, it is the stronger cultures that are more likely to survive.
So what are some of the cultural dynamics we should assess to see whether we are ready for a crisis, be it sudden or smouldering? Here are a few that come to mind:
1) Consider our daily operations as practice preparedness runs. If we have strong systems in place, that our employees use, understand and value, these systems will help us to not only prevent a crisis from occurring but will also show quickly if something fails.
2) Assess our people culture - if the people and teams are strong, and an atmosphere of fairness and empowerment prevails, then our employees will be far better equipped to weather a potential storm. They will also provide us with the support and loyalty that we’ve shown them in return.
3) Reflect deeply on all aspects of our proactivity, from organisational learning to risk foresight. Learning from both our own and others’ mistakes will not only teach employees how to deal with occurring problems in an efficient way but it will minimise the risk of us ending in a crisis situation to begin with.
4) And finally, consider change. Nearly every crisis will bring with it a deluge of change. Companies that understand when and how to embrace change will be much better equipped at doing so when a crisis hits.
Don’t forget Social Media!
These are the cries of my millennial colleague Ringaile as we discuss crisis management. And indeed, it’s no longer possible to talk about crisis management without raising this topic. Because of social media, companies are more exposed than ever before and as with many things in life, it can be a double-edged sword. Social media will provide us with a platform to step up, and bring your version of events forward quickly and efficiently. (Ringaile points out Chevy’s #technologyandstuff campaign - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxU-F0zzRlA ). But of course, the other side of the coin is that the story can get ahead of us, and so managing social media and our crisis simultaneously will be crucial.
It’s important to remember that when a crisis happens, public judgement can be harsh and rapid. People will look at two things: our company’s reputation (and our culture will be key here) and our reaction. Gone are the times of crafting a statement days after the incident, hoping things will soon be forgotten. We live in an instant world, with all kinds of unlikely stories going viral. Let's not go viral for the wrong reasons!
The good news though? Some companies come out of crises stronger and better than ever before, because they take the necessary steps to prepare accordingly. It is hard work but it is not just worth it, it is critical for survival.
Culture Excellence Members
For our Culture Excellence members, you have an overview of your cultural strengths and weaknesses in the areas we have discussed, and can see pockets of risk and excellence. These are a key element of your crisis management toolkit – so please do ask us if you would like further guidance on this!