“Lessons will be learned”
How many times have we read those words, usually at the end of an investigation or an inquiry into a crisis? Learning lessons from the management of a crisis is, however, crucial for organisations, particularly those that are responsible for managing the care of sick or vulnerable people.
Most organisations will, of course, have a crisis management plan on the shelf. The plan is likely to contain analysis of the types of critical events that an organisation may face, together with detailed consideration of the impact that a crisis may have on the organisation, its people and its service users.
These could include operational or service failures, damage to assets or property, loss of facilities for service provision or IT infrastructure, even the impact of cyber-attacks on data or communications processes. The range of issues that could create a crisis for an organisation is wide, and a prudent management would spend time considering those risks, the likelihood of their occurring, and the ways in which they could be mitigated or dealt with.
But no plan can cater for every scenario, so it is important to keep the plan up-to-date, and to practise regularly the management and operational routines that comprise the plan. This might mean holding drills or mock exercises to test the plan. It will certainly mean involving staff in developing the plan and communicating its contents to staff who will be responsible for delivering it.
These preparations should also involve training your key staff so that they can manage their roles in crisis management. Not everyone will have been through a major incident or a crisis, and it can be a daunting prospect for inexperienced staff to deal with. Training and familiarisation with their roles and the processes involved will help everyone respond better under the pressure of a real crisis.
Finally, a well-executed crisis management plan will certainly involve an effective de-briefing process after the event. This will make sure that those involved get the chance to reflect on how they did, and how they can improve individual and team performance.
Developing a crisis management plan
In developing a crisis management plan it is essential to ensure that the people involved know what their roles and responsibilities are to deal with the key priorities in managing a crisis.
Typically, these will include:
- Setting up the command and control arrangements to manage the crisis
- Designating and assembling the team of people that will be responsible for delivering the crisis management plan
- Implementing the operational measures to contain, control and to fix the issues at the heart of the crisis
- Identifying the key stakeholders involved in the crisis, and communicating quickly and honestly with them…especially where patients and their families are affected
- Implementing a business or service continuity plan to maintain safe and secure services to users
- Developing a post-crisis recovery plan to ensure lessons are learned from how the issue were addressed
- Having clear and honest conversations about what worked well and what could be improved next time
Understandably, senior executives in charge of crisis management will focus inwards on addressing the most urgent and service-critical issues first. However, this can lead a team to focus more on the operational aspects of the crisis, and to neglect the outward-facing needs to keep stakeholders informed.
Every crisis will be different, and a “one size fits all” approach is unlikely to work every time. Every crisis will test your organisation’s resilience across a number of disciplines. But the successful management of any crisis will rely heavily on an effective communications plan.
At Verita, we have wide-ranging experience of supporting management teams in crisis communications. We have learned that effective communications at the start, during and after a crisis can help an organisation survive with its reputation intact, however serious the incident it faces.
So, what are your key priorities for delivering an effective crisis communications plan?
- Ensure that the person speaking on your behalf is authoritative and well-briefed
- Get all the facts before deciding what to say; the first message from your organisation will set the tone for what is to follow
- Be pro-active with your communications; getting the communications plan up and running should be one of your first priorities, and your stakeholders will appreciate early contact
- Commit to communicating as the crisis develops; one statement is rarely enough in complex and rapidly changing situations
- Use multiple channels; social media often react quickly to events, and can rapidly overtake set piece, face-to-face briefings, news conferences and written public statements
- Don’t forget your staff; in the rush to communicate outwards, it is all too easy to forget your internal audience
- Find ways to monitor the reaction to your communications; it is crucial to know whether your audiences have heard and understood your messages
- If an apology is called for, make it, and make it sincere.
- Remember that your communications may need to go on for some time after the crisis is resolved
The reputation of any organisation will be magnified, well and badly, by how its leadership acts during a crisis. Understanding the importance of preserving reputation is a key element of the communications plan. Senior leadership will, and should be, highly visible when an organisation is under stress. Your stakeholders, your staff, your service users and their families will remember how you behave during a crisis. Make sure you leave them with the best possible memories of how you did!
If you need any help with developing a crisis management plan, or with a crisis communications plan we would be happy to talk to you. Book a free 30-minute consultation with Managing Director Ed Marsden for an initial conversation in confidence about your requirements.