[Last amended: 01 Nov 20]
During my work with PM.be, a crisis management consultancy, we jointly developed a set of principles for Crisis Management. This work started in 2019 and these principles were refined in January 2020. Having said that, these Crisis Management principles, set out below, are open for review. Work is now underway to test these principles for their validity.
Remember to "fly the plane"
Despite the crisis, business has to continue where possible. Manager should avoid solely focusing on the crisis while overlooking the needs of "business as usual".
The phrase comes from an air-crash investigation where the pilots became so absorbed by a failed landing gear light bulb that they failed to notice that they were running out of fuel … yes, it ended badly.
Avoid doing more harm
While the crisis will be caused by one source of harm (which will be tackled as a priority), some new actions may cause harm through unintended consequences. Be careful not just to replace one problem with another.
Identify stakeholders and their real concerns
In our definition of crisis we talk of "events that someone cares about”. Find out who cares about what and address those issues.
Know where you are going and how you will get there (fitness landscape)
Take time to define the end state desired. This needs to be defined to ensure everyone has a common end to which to work.
For example: These principle are all based on the delivering the outcome of "winning back trust in the organization". Here we see issues such as "brand" and "reputation" being about how much trust the stakeholders have that the organization will deliver its output in an acceptable manner. The purpose of crisis management is to win back the trust lost through the crisis.
Resolve the problem at the appropriate level
The expertise required to resolve a crisis may not reside at the highest level of the organisation. Management needs to seek out the right expertise to deal with the problem at hand.
Listen and align
This about ensuring that different parts of the organization are not working against each other. Again this often manifest in the unintended consequence of an action rather than the action itself. Here we are talking about the phenomenon of "emergence" within complex systems.
This is about ensuring that the organisations makes best use of time and other resources available to it.
Avoid looking shifty (devious)
Spokespeople often try to word their statements to avoid blame: this can make them come across badly to the public. The consequence of this is the public lose trust in everything they say. The purpose of this principle is to mitigate this route to a further loss of trust.
Be consistent as you can, balanced with flexibility
This principle is driven by two contrasting ideas.
The first is that the world is constantly changing, and therefore we need to adapt to these changes ... we need to be “agile”.
The second is that it takes time to change direction. Even at the micro level (day to day operations) it takes time to decide on a course of action, disseminate the instruction and then to implement it. It is much easier and quicker for those in charge to change their mind on what needs to be done than it is to implement the action. When the decision cycle gets out of alignment with the “decision-action” cycle then this can (and often does) end up with “order-counterorder-disorder”… chaos.
The point of the principle is to remind decision-makers that any change of orders/ direction has to be given time to be implemented. Remember that the best option can be the enemy of a good option. Be consistent as you can (try not to chop and change the direction you are giving) but be ready to make changes, as quickly as possible, when absolutely necessary.
Rest: tired minds make bad decisions
The "Boss" often "wish to be seen as being in charge" of the crisis management and they do this by being always present. The downside side of this is they become exhausted and the consequence of this is that they become more prone to making bad decisions.