A crisis that puts your reputation in jeopardy could be just around the corner. So it pays to be prepared.
“It’ll never happen to us” must surely be one of the most expensive phrases in business.
Whilst it may be difficult to put a figure on the bottom-line impact of a reputational crisis, one thing is certain: being tried in the court of public opinion will undoubtedly tarnish your brand and distract you from your pursuit of growth.
It’s much better to take the view that if it can go wrong, it probably will.
That might sound pessimistic, but it’s much better to go into a crisis with at least some idea of how best to manage your way out of it.
Resilient businesses rebound from setbacks much more quickly and easily than their rivals simply because they are better at understanding, planning for and mitigating against business risks.
A risk based approach to crisis managementÂ
The list of things that can go wrong, and damage your hard won reputation in the process, is practically endless.
To prepare for the worst, you need to approach it like you would any other risk assessment, setting out all the things that could go wrong and then, for each scenario, detailing how this could affect your business, the likelihood of it happening and the extent of any reputational damage if it does.
Then, for each scenario, think about how you could reduce the likelihood of it ever being realised or the scale of reputational consequence if it does, including the reactionary steps you might need to take in communicating during a crisis.
Now, you have the beginnings of a scenario based plan for how you’re going to behave in any given set of crisis circumstances.
Make sure everyone understands there is a crisis plan
The last thing you need in crisis is for someone to be making it up as they go along.
So, once you’ve crafted your scenario-based plan, you need to communicate that to colleagues and make sure they understand it.
You also need to allocate roles and responsibilities too – clearly defining who can communicate with critical stakeholders, when, under what circumstances and what information can and must be shared.
Remember that, in any crisis, the last thing you want is a communcations vacuum – because it will quickly get filled with speculation, especially given the prevalence of social media.
Avoid the ‘acid test’ by checking your crisis plan in advance
“The best laid plans of mice and men…” will at times go awry.
Finding that out in the midst of a real crisis isn’t helpful, and so you need to test your scenario-based plans in advance.
There are a variety of ways you can do this, but at the very least you should think about some sort of desktop exercise where the various actors in your plan go through it step-by-step to test its adequacy.
It’s also wise to stress-test your plans at regular intervals too, because things can and will change – including your own people, your stakeholders and the communication channels you might be expected to use.
If you found this article helpful, please share it or tell us about it in the comments!