Here Be Dragons: 5 Myths of Contemporary Crisis Management

Richard Long

Many areas of business continuity are the subject of myths, meaning beliefs that are widely held but not true. Crisis management is one area where numerous myths have sprung up. In today’s post, we’ll look at five of the most pervasive.

Crisis management (CM) planning is an area where most companies may believe (or hope) they are in great shape at the same time as they should have doubts about their plans and hope they are never put to the test.

These myths have three things in common: 1) Believing in them makes people feel like they are off the hook, 2) they aren’t true, and 3) they are an obstacle to the company’s truly becoming prepared to deal with a crisis.

Here are five of the myths we encounter most frequently when out in the field:

Myth No. 1: Since we were prepared for a crisis yesterday, it means we’re prepared for a crisis today.

Sorry, but no. It doesn’t mean that. It means you were prepared for a crisis yesterday. Today is a whole new ballgame.

By “today,” I don’t literally mean today. I mean that things change in crisis management, and just because you were in good shape at some point in the past, it doesn’t mean you’re in good shape now.

Think about the last 10 or 15 years. Some of the biggest threats confronting business today hardly existed several years ago. Exhibit A for this is cyber threats. Exhibit B is the power of social media to turn what formerly might have been a limited, private problem into a full-scale public-relations forest fire in a matter of hours.

Just because you used to be prepared doesn’t mean you still are prepared. You should make sure that you are. Make sure your CM plan is still relevant, review it, and exercise it. Make sure the plan still makes sense in light of your current business priorities, culture, and environment.

Learn more: Crisis Response in Today’s Breakneck World.

Myth No. 2: As long as we have the necessary contact information somewhere in our  organization, we will be able to access it during a crisis.

It would be great if this were true, but usually it’s not. There’s a big difference between having the information somewhere at your organization and being able to put your hands on it quickly during an emergency.

By contacts, I’m talking about phone numbers and email addresses for your staff and primary and secondary connections at your key regulators, customers, vendors, and the media. These are the people you will probably need to get in touch with during the emergency to get their help or give them timely notification.

And if the contact information is all in someone’s head that you can’t reach, or on one cell phone that is out of power, or scattered across multiple hard files or networked documents that you can’t access, you might as well not have it all.

Learn more: It Shouldn’t Be a Scavenger Hunt: Accessing Critical Recovery Information in Crisis.

Myth No. 3: One thing you can definitely count on in today’s world is that people will always have cell phone coverage and email capability.

It’s true that cell phone coverage is more widespread and robust than it used to be, but any organization that assumes that its people will always have access to cellular data and email is asking for it.

Air travelers spend long periods out of phone contact. Areas that usually have good service can experience outages due to problems with the carrier or local events. And many places still lack coverage, as I found out recently while on a trip in Oregon, when I had no cell phone service for long stretches of a drive.

It is not safe to assume that you and your colleagues will have cell phone and email connectivity during an emergency.

Learn more: Don’t Rely on Technology to Keep Your Business Running During a Crisis.

Myth No. 4: We don’t have to spend time on crisis planning because our people are so smart they will be able to figure out what to do on the fly.

The problem here is not with the organization’s assumption that its people are smart enough to figure things out. They probably are. The problem is with the “on the fly” part. During a crisis the clock is ticking. Usually, the longer it takes to resolve the problem, the more damage is incurred by the company.

Sure, the organization’s people might be able to figure out solutions to the problems that created the crisis, but can they do it quickly enough to prevent significant damage to the organization?

Based on my experience, the answer is often no.

Plus, it should be remembered that most people don’t think as clearly under stress as they do in normal times, the organization will not necessarily have its “A” team on duty, and there are always unexpected problems along the way.

A much better solution than expecting your people to act like superheroes is to make and implement a crisis management plan ahead of time.

Learn more: 8 Tips for Building a Good Crisis Management Team.

Myth No. 5: We don’t have to worry about the reputational impact of a crisis because if anything bad happens, we will be able to control the message.

Anyone who thinks this is true must have been asleep for the past 10 years.

In the old days, an organization could control all the information coming out about them and even “go dark” if they preferred to keep the issue under wraps. That option is gone, at least for good-sized organizations whose activities are of interest to the outside world.

Nowadays, for prominent organizations, their response to a crisis will be interpreted and critiqued even if their response is not to respond. Going dark can be as bad as saying too much.

Social media has radically changed business messaging and crisis communications.

What are the chances that every good-sized organization today has employees who are active on social media? Astronomical. What are the chances that all of the employees at an organization who are on social media will be discreet if a crisis hits the company?

A much better solution than banking on the above myth is to design and implement a crisis management plan with a good media and communications and component.

Learn more: 7 Tips to Help You Protect Your Brand in a Crisis.

THE PARADOX OF CRISIS MANAGEMENT

Here’s a paradox about crisis management: Responding to a crisis is a high-pressure activity where every second counts. However, getting better at crisis management planning is not that way at all. It’s an activity where all you have to do to succeed is be steady and patient and work at the problem over time.

If you believe that your organization has fallen prey to some of the myths described above, you don’t have to leap into crisis mode to make everything better right away. Identify one or two areas where you are the most vulnerable and work on them over the coming year. In subsequent years, work on your next most vulnerable areas. And after that, don’t forget regular maintenance and upkeep, which is what it’s really all about.

In this way, you can replace a belief in myths with a solid, well-founded plan that will offer your organization true protection if and when trouble strikes.

FURTHER READING

For more information on this and other hot topics in business continuity and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from MHA Consulting and BCMMETRICS:


 

 

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