Accidents Don't Make Appointments. They Can Occur Anytime and Under the Most Unfavorable Circumstances.
Merely mention the word and you evoke visions of unspeakable affliction and suffering.
It seems that you can't turn on the radio, television, pick up a newspaper, magazine, or periodical any more, without reading about a crisis somewhere. Yet, by developing and implementing a well defined crisis management program, business leaders can mitigate the potentially disastrous effects of an incident.
Management is never put more strongly to the test than in a crisis situation. The objectives are immediate and so are the results. What you and those around you do or don't do will have long lasting implications. Today, individuals responsible for the management of businesses and public agencies must deal effectively with increasingly complex laws and issues or face the consequences.
What if...? You came to your office for the beginning of your work week and because of some unforseen event there were no employees, no working telephones, no functioning computers, no utilities. You're the Chief Executive. What would you do? Where would you start? Unquestionably this is a crisis. Remember, you have access to almost none of your regular business tools. If this had been an actual incident; such as many businesses experienced during the Chicago flood in April 1992, it would already have been too late to concern yourself with developing a Crisis Management Program! You've got to have a program in place to ensure continuity of operations. But, what kind of Crisis Management Program?
You might ask yourself, "What is a crisis for my firm?" For our purposes, the following definition will be used:
A crisis can be defined as any unplanned event, occurrence or sequence of events that has a specific undesirable consequence.
Natural disasters, financial manipulation, societal disruption, pollution and stringent regulations are but a few examples of potential crisis situations. The reasons for focusing on these issues may result from a commitment to protect the public, your employees, to comply with government regulations or to protect the firm from possible liabilities and litigation. The consequences for not focusing on these issues can be disastrous.
The above sampling indicates the need for a viable Crisis Management Program - an "all hazards" program. Failure to have a workable Crisis Management Program is akin to playing Russian Roulette with an automatic pistol. You don't have the luxury of pulling the trigger on an empty chamber.
You may think that its too difficult and time consuming to develop a cohesive Crisis Management Program. However, when broken down into its basic elements, a plan consists of only four parts. These are:
Although no two Crisis Management Programs are exactly alike, these are the critical aspects of any Crisis Management Program. We will discuss each of these aspects briefly. However, before we delve into the four aspects, let's look at some basic objectives.
Ask yourself why do we need a Crisis Management Program with an "all hazards" approach? Put simply, such a program allows you to provide for:
A brief synopsis of the common weaknesses in Crisis Management planning may prove helpful. As you read the discussion on the four basic elements, keep these weaknesses in mind. You may also want to assess your current Crisis Management Program against these weaknesses.
The most common weaknesses in Crisis Management planning are:
How do you reduce the vulnerability posed by potential crises? A system that will advise you of the initiatives to be addressed is needed. This will allow you to act in a responsible manner to fulfill the purpose and intent of existing legislation.
It can also provide a framework for anticipating future legislation. An effective system for compliance can be developed only if you know what laws and regulations pertain to your operation. In order to accomplish this task, a survey of all operations should be undertaken.
The survey should include:
The ultimate benefits to be gained from this type of survey are in terms of identifying areas in need of attention, establishing a list of potential crisis situations, determining what commitments you are comfortable with and documenting current efforts. Once the survey program has been developed and implemented, it must be evaluated and kept up-to-date.
This can be accomplished by reviewing actual responses and by conducting a detailed audit of each element of the business.
The survey program is the initial step, toward reducing vulnerability. Next, you must organize the operation. The management chain is critical to this process. You must ensure that all levels of management become part of the program.
This can be achieved in several ways:
This can be very effective and it gets the message out to all personnel that your company is serious about crisis management preparedness.
Another perspective on this issue really begets changing the "corporate culture," i.e., making crisis management preparedness a part of the way you do business.
It is essential, however, that companies become more aware of their responsibilities in these areas - and this is one way to build the awareness.
This discussion is limited by the space available to a brief highlight of some approaches that can be undertaken. Each company will find its situation and circumstances to be unique to its corporate culture.
Therefore, an in-depth analysis of your company's operating environment should be undertaken before developing a program or attempting to address the above items.
Preparedness used in the broadest context means any and all measures taken to prevent, prepare for, respond, mitigate and recover from a crisis. It's with this perspective that we begin to breakdown the aspect of Preparedness. Preparedness consists of four critical aspects:
Training of personnel is the third component of the "all hazards" approach. The training of the Crisis Management/Response Organization is one of the critical success fact4ors that must be addressed if an adequate response is to be achieved. The development of the compliance program, involvement of all levels of management and establishing preparedness is only part of the overall process. To ensure an adequate response, a trained organization is required.
A "systems" approach to preparing effective training programs should consist of:
TASK ANALYSIS: When designing an integrated training program, first determine the skills, knowledge and procedures required for satisfactory performance of each task.
LESSON DEVELOPMENT: Learning objectives are defined from the skills, knowledge and procedures developed during task analysis. Instructional plans are then prepared to support the learning objectives.
INSTRUCTION: Lessons are systematically presented using appropriate instructional methods. Instruction may include lecture, self-paced or group-paced mediated instruction, simulation and team training.
EVALUATION: Performance standards and evaluation criteria are developed from the learning objectives. Each trainee's performance is evaluated during the course and during field performance testing.
In addition to the formal training program, a program of proficiency demonstration is also needed. This can be accomplished by establishing a program that supplements the training with drills and exercises. The drill program can vary in degree of complexity.
The need to establish and maintain an ongoing dynamic Crisis Management Program is essential. The crisis management process doesn't end just because you finished the crisis management plan, are in compliance, have involved management and trained the staff.
In order to facilitate planning requirements, a record of all initiatives should be retained. These records serve to document the accomplishments, requirements, commitments and reports relating to various program requirements. The identification of commitments in the areas of compliance, emergency preparedness and training is vital. The establishment of a defined information management system structure will ensure that documentation will be available when needed.
Senior management must be kept well informed. Information is a corporate asset. Information is expensive. It must be shared and managed effectively. Information management is also critical during a crisis. The need for active systems to provide information on materials, personnel, capabilities information on materials, personnel, capabilities and processes is essential. It is extremely important to have a system (and adequate back-up systems) in place that serves to identify, catalog, set priorities and track issues and commitments relating to crisis management and response activities.
In almost every instance of successful response to a crisis, management and response activities consisting of sound operating execution coupled with superior communication predominate. Operational response is essential. It is the one that saves lives, property and other assets. The ability to communicate is no less important. It's the one that saves the business.
The simple fact is: perception is reality. Public perception of your company's reaction to a crisis is as important as your operating response. Lessons learned in crises ranging from Three Mile Island to the Exxon Valdez validate the need for a dynamic crisis management program.
Trust and confidence in the abilities of middle level management must be established. "How well have my people prepared?" This question can only be answered satisfactorily, if you have established a level of trust and confidence, can communicate risk and are willing to allow these managers to practice upward management, that is to delegate up.
They must have the ability to recognize needs and have a process in place that allows them to delegate up without fear of repercussions.
Few crises will be as dramatic as Three Mile Island or the Valdez ... unless it is your own. When your crisis occurs, the hardest part of dealing with it can involve answering the public call for information a call personified by a television correspondent or newspaper reporter who shows up at your doorstep or on your telephone line to get the story. How well you respond depends on how well you are prepared.
Mr. Geary W. Sikich is the author of, It Can't Happen Here: All Hazards Crisis Management Planning, published by PennWell Books. His second book, Emergency Management Planning Handbook, is published by McGraw Hill. He is a Principal with Logical Management Systems, Corp. (LMS) based in Munster, Indiana. Mr. Sikich has over 20 years experience in management consulting in a variety of fields. He consults on a regular basis with companies worldwide on crisis management issues.
Copyright 1996, Geary W. Sikich, P.O. Box 1998, Highland, Indiana 46322. World rights reserved. No part of this publication may be stored in a retrieval system, transmitted, or reproduced in any way, including but not limited to photocopy, photograph, magnetic or other record, without prior agreement and written permission of the publisher.