Dropping the Ball: 6 Common Crisis Response Mistakes

Has your organization ever dropped the ball in responding to a crisis, thus making a bad situation worse? In today’s post, we’re going to look at six of the most common crisis response mistakes.

 

 

Many business continuity professionals persist in thinking that good crisis response is about seat-of-the-pants heroics. In fact, it’s mostly about thoughtful preparation.

As a business continuity consultant, I’ve had a backstage view of many companies’ crisis response efforts over the years. Together with MHA Consulting CEO Michael Herrera, I wrote an ebook on the subject: Crisis Management: A Handbook for BCM Professionals (free to download).

Below is my list of the six most common crisis management mistakes.

These are things I see company after company doing wrong, which leads them to drop the ball on their crisis response, making a bad situation worse.

Six Common Crisis Response Mistakes

1. Making it up as you go along. Many organizations are confident that if and when they face a crisis they will be able to respond effectively without a plan. Their work is nothing but crises, they say. Their people are cool-headed, they’ve seen it all, and they know just what to do. The fact is, these organizations’ confidence is based on the false assumption that a normal operational issue and a crisis are the same. A true crisis presents an organization with unprecedented pressures and challenges. This is often felt most strongly in the area of decision-making, which in a real crisis often takes longer than expected (hours instead of minutes) due to the unfamiliar nature of the problems involved. This is why every organization should have a crisis response plan in which key response milestones are decided on ahead of time. Having such a plan in your back pocket will make sure your crisis response is quick and sure. Making it up as you go is likely to result in harmful delays.

2. Assuming you have all the time in the world. A mellow and patient personality is great in some contexts but not in others. Ditto with an inclination to conduct a deep analysis of every situation before making a decision and taking action. When you’re in the middle of a crisis, time is of the essence. People tend to lose sight of this fact. They go along at their usual pace, assuming events will be considerate and not get ahead of them. This is an unwise assumption. In a crisis, you have to act fast and make decisions with the information and tools you have, to the best of your ability at that time. Sound crisis response requires a strong sense of urgency.

3. Sticking with a course of action after it’s proven to be ill-advised. Many people seem to assume that once they make a certain decision in their crisis response they have to stick with it, no matter what. Perhaps they’re concerned that to do otherwise will amount to admitting they made a mistake the first time. Small mistakes are usually not a big problem. Compounding mistakes through the inability to adapt to changing circumstances often is. Good crisis response requires flexibility, maturity, and the courage to correct a prior course of action if it is proven to be ineffective. The best approach is that embodied in the saying, “I don’t want to be right, I want to get it right.”

4. Letting others control the narrative. The old school approach to communicating about company problems was, the less said, the better. That is no longer a viable strategy. These days, you have to assume the news will get out. What you can’t do is sit back and let other people write your story. Social media places a premium on quick takes and extreme responses. It has little respect for facts. You do not want to let anonymous people on social media have free rein in shaping the public perception of your company, especially at a sensitive time. Your organization needs to be ready to put its position forward and share the facts as it understands them.

5. Not monitoring social media. What happens on social media can have real-world consequences for your organization, including negative ones. You should monitor social media widely. There’s a lot more to the social landscape these days than Facebook. Keep abreast of what’s being said about you and know what your employees are sharing and revealing. Stay ahead of the story. Deal with the potential ramifications promptly.

6. Not trying to anticipate potential future problems. No one has a crystal ball, but responsible organizations do their best to anticipate future problems. Most crises start off as smoldering problems. Relatively few arrive out of the blue. Unfortunately, too many organizations take a “Don’t worry, be happy” approach to the future. Wiser companies use a combination of common sense and imagination to keep tabs on what smoldering problems of today could become the crises of tomorrow. And if you wait till you have all the information to get ready, you’ve probably waited too long. Being blindsided is costly and so is waiting too long to act. During a crisis, it’s important for the crisis management team to anticipate problems that could occur and identify potential plans and actions that may be needed. It’s better to have a plan and not need it than need it and not have it. Merely reacting is not enough. The best chess players look several moves ahead and have suitable actions ready no matter what the opponent does. Crisis management teams should do the same.

Over and over, I have seen companies commit these mistakes in their crisis response, making a tough situation even tougher. Most of the above errors can be avoided by a modest amount of preparation.

A Swift and Sure Response

Over the years, I have had a front-row seat to the crisis response efforts of many organizations. Many common crisis response mistakes are rooted in the belief that good crisis response is about heroic action in the moment; in fact, calm preparation is more important.

Few crises come out of the blue; most are the result of smoldering problems that have been allowed to flare out of control. By planning ahead, showing sufficient urgency, being willing to change course, controlling the narrative, monitoring social media, and trying to anticipate future problems, you can help ensure that, if and when your company faces a crisis, its response will be swift, sure, and effective.

Further Reading

For more information on responding to crises and other hot topics in BC and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from MHA Consulting and BCMMETRICS:

About
Richard Long
Richard Long is one of MHA’s practice team leaders for Technology and Disaster Recovery related engagements. He has been responsible for the successful execution of MHA business continuity and disaster recovery engagements in industries such as Energy & Utilities, Government Services, Healthcare, Insurance, Risk Management, Travel & Entertainment, Consumer Products, and Education. Prior to joining MHA, Richard held Senior IT Director positions at PetSmart (NASDAQ: PETM) and Avnet, Inc. (NYSE: AVT) and has been a senior leader across all disciplines of IT. He has successfully led international and domestic disaster recovery, technology assessment, crisis management and risk mitigation engagements.
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