Be Ready When a Crisis Occurs
A crisis by its very nature is unexpected. An employee may suffer a serious workplace accident or a catastrophic illness. A business scandal could flare up out of nowhere. A product malfunction might cause a customer’s injury.
Whenever any type of crisis occurs, it’s up to the business owner to take charge and lead the way out. Make sure you have a plan in place for coping with any unforeseen events or emergencies.
Plan and Practice Your Response
No one can foresee every contingency, but you can easily imagine what could happen. Take some time on your own and with your team to brainstorm a range of possible calamities. Don’t hold back: Encourage people to imagine the worst — an episode of workplace violence, theft of proprietary data, destruction by hurricane or fire, and so on.
Once you’ve completed this exercise, think about the most important steps you and your business would have to take to remedy the situation, as well as what you, as the owner or CEO, would say to the press if called upon.
Compile these scenarios and your anticipated responses in a “crisis response” document.
Next, before a crisis strikes, test your plans. Schedule a drill in which everyone participates in a simulated response to a traumatic event. This instills confidence in employees and also reveals what you may have missed in the planning stage.
Stay Calm and Assess the Situation
The right way to respond to an actual crisis is rarely by acting on the first thing that comes to mind. You may not have much time to consider an appropriate response, but each minute you take to calmly assess the situation will lead to a more informed response. Talk to whoever was affected or involved in the crisis. Collect and evaluate the facts. Try to anticipate the effects the crisis will have on your employees, partners, and customers.
Be mindful of how you appear to those around you. Whether you like it or not, people will be closely observing your reaction to the traumatic event. Nonverbal signals (your facial expressions, posture, degree of eye contact, etc.) all send messages which either declare, “I’m on top of things” or “Where can I run and hide?” Others need you to remain calm and objective. In a crisis, we all want to know someone’s in charge.
In the same respect, you must be willing to tackle the situation head-on. The crisis won’t go away on its own: It must be addressed. As much as possible, consider the event objectively and be prepared to answer questions, both internal and external, about its causes and repercussions.
Provide Enough (But Not Too Much) Information
In most cases, the business owner or CEO is called upon to make a statement to the media regarding the situation. If it’s strictly an internal matter, the same responsibility applies to informing your employees. Aside from issues of confidentiality or legality, the goal is to share enough information to give people what they need to know — and no more.
Your instinct may be to show the scope and depth of your knowledge by communicating a lot of extraneous details surrounding the event. That generally only serves to confuse your audience. Be truthful, but avoid offering too much information.
When a crisis occurs that affects people, demonstrate empathy. Employees and customers need to know that you, too, “feel the pain.” It’s not necessary to wear your emotions on your sleeve — in fact, people generally prefer leaders to keep their feelings in check — but you must express care and compassion for those involved.
Monitor the Long-Term Effects
When handled properly, a crisis may recede quickly, enabling the business to move on. But some situations have lingering effects. Your responsibility is to help employees work through the event (or provide resources to help with this process), which means you need to have a comprehensive understanding of the crisis’ size and scope.
A crisis may occur today, tomorrow, or three years from now. Planning ahead guarantees a much better outcome than waiting for the moment itself and relying on a “gut feeling” to see it through.
Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.