Beginning with the end in mind is a practice that never fails because it is the only way to determine the steps between today’s challenge and tomorrow’s goal.
Beginning with the end in mind is especially true for crisis managers because disasters rarely offer advance notice. However, those who take the time to know and interpret their surroundings are far more likely to detect an oncoming crisis than those who think preparation is a waste of time.
A PR News survey, claims only 62% of companies have a crisis plan. But, that number is probably bogus as surveys do not often represent reality, especially when it is taken among members or people with common interests. In the 30 years I’ve been in PR, including the 20 years I have owned my agency, I have never seen such a high percentage of organizations that plan for crises. I am inclined to believe, based on experience, that less than 10 percent of any business sector has a crisis plan. That’s rolling the dice on the organization’s future. But we live in a time when organizations ask the staff pretend to be family when nothing is further from the truth, so why not pretend bad things can’t happen to li’l ole us, right?
We make plenty of arguments for creating a Crisis Management and Mitigation Plan, so I won’t rehash that mantra here. It’s not a hit song, and though redundancy is a great way to learn, it can also be a great way to lose an audience. Instead, my goal is to help you through the hardest part: getting started.
Drafting crisis plans are time-consuming distractions that take us away from producing income, although the plan might be the thing that keeps you in business. Squeezing in time is hard. I have a client who is about to celebrate the third anniversary of not having our final findings and recommendations session because he staffed the sessions with “leadership” rather than the front-line, “public-facing” staff who could significantly contribute. Getting these leaders back together has not been fruitful.
Once you decide to establish a plan, you’re on solid ground. Here’s what you need to get started:
- Sell the idea to your staff. Educate your leadership staff about the essential need for crisis planning. If you can think of a crisis when your organization, a client, or a member could have used a plan, that’s a great tactic to capture the attention of those whose buy-ins you need most. Use the example as you pitch the process.
- Reuse an old plan or another document as a starting point. Do you have an old rusty, crusty plan you can use rather than starting from the beginning? If that plan was developed right, you could cut out hours of the initial groundwork by taking parts from it because, if done right, that plan will have your organization’s core tenants infused into it, such as messages, mission, vision, and values. Do you have planning documents or a well-written annual report? If so, you should be able to glean some fundamental material from those, as every strategic document will incorporate boilerplate items that do not change.
- Craft a committee. While leadership needs to be involved in strategic planning, do not overlook those who can contribute. People on the ground, in the field, or those who deal with your constituents daily can draw upon their experiences to anticipate probable crisis scenarios. And don’t overlook the otherwise unpopular cynical employee. His negative outlook on humanity could be a significant contribution to helping you anticipate potential crisis scenarios caused by people’s negligence, ignorance, or greed. You do not need to have the whole committee together for every planning session. The introductory meeting and draft plan presentation are the only meetings everyone needs to attend. The meetings in between only require those whose experiences and expertise are needed. However, if you have someone who wants to participate in each session, allow him or her to do so. Perhaps the person enjoys breaking the monotonous workday, but it is possible the person is genuinely interested, which could work to your advantage.
- Find online resources to guide your sessions. Several sound resources on crisis planning are posted online for free. If your budget requires a DYI approach, consider a few of these resources and design your sessions accordingly. Including a potential budget crisis during the sessions since your organization won’t invest in a guided approach is not a good sign. Online resources cannot ask clarification questions or offer scenarios based on your organization. If you must go DIY, your organization will be far more prepared than having no plan.
- Hire a consultant to guide you through. Reputable and experienced consultants are expensive because of their vast experience. They know how to craft an organization-specific plan (watch out for the low-fee consultants who boilerplate the same plan for everyone—a plan they likely scarfed online, anyway). Look at it this way—you will pay no matter what. If you go the DIY route, you will spare some cash, but you will need to use a lot of billable or productive hours, which will ultimately become more costly than bringing in an expert. Freeing up a few hours can generate far more income than the money you will pay a consultant. Do the math and do what’s best.
Think these ideas through, make decisions and commitments, and you will have a practical and workable Crisis Management and Mitigation Plan in just a few weeks or months.