Some crises unfold in slow motion, but that doesn’t call for a slow-motion response. A crisis at any speed can be devastating to a reputation. A bungled or belated response won’t help.
There is lots of available advice on how to deal with explosive crises such as a toxic spill, financial scandal or massive layoff. There is less advice for a crisis that unfolds slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, such as a toxic work environment, undetected embezzlement or a technological disruption that threatens a company’s cash cow.
Like a fast-moving crisis, slow-motion crises reach a head, move into the public arena and demand time-sensitive responses. Time is a single most important advantage you have in responding either to a fast-moving or slow-motion crisis.
The best way to capture time is thorough advance crisis planning that includes identifying potential crisis scenarios, identifying go-to resources and putting in place tools you might need in a response.
Comprehensive and candid issue audits are a proven means to suss out potential crisis scenarios as well as weigh their probability of occurring and their consequences if they do. Issue audits also can be useful in anticipating how a crisis scenario might be triggered, plus how – and how quickly – the crisis might unfold.
Knowing how a particular crisis might start is critical information that can inform a crisis response plan and a corresponding action plan to improve tracking systems or take steps to diminish the risk.
Like a fast-moving crisis, slow-motion crises reach a head, move into the public arena and demand time-sensitive responses. Time is a single most important advantage you have in responding either to a fast-moving like a toxic spill or slow-motion crisis like a toxic workplace.
For highly probable and serious potential crises, simulated drills will test the soundness of a crisis response and perhaps underscore the cost-effectiveness of investments to reduce the probability of a particular crisis occurring.
The next-best way to capture time is to anticipate triggers for fast-moving and slow-motion crises. For example, do you have trusted procedures that allow employees to report sexual harassment incidents? If not, you should move to create them as a way to get ahead of the issue. Finding out about sexual harassment claims is key to taking firm steps to address the claims.
Sticking with the sexual harassment example, if your new procedures uncover a rash of claims, including ones dating back awhile, you should assume you could face a toxic workplace allegation by a labor commissioner or a lawsuit by one or more victims. Don’t wait for the other shoe to drop. Address the problem directly and definitively, even if it means firing a valued employee – or a boss.
It’s hard to hide a toxic spill under the proverbial rug, but it’s tempting to think you can throw a blanket over a slow-motion crisis like a toxic workplace. Chances are you can’t suppress the bad news, so don’t try. Focus your energies instead on addressing the cause of the bad news. Actions will speak louder than words when talking about the crisis with stakeholders, employees, consumers, regulators and the news media.
The speed by which a problem escalates into a crisis shouldn’t blind anyone to the speed needed for an effective crisis response. There is only one speed for crisis response – now. What are you going to do now? If you haven’t taken the time to assess your risks, facing the what-do-I-do-know deadlines of a crisis may seem like an eternity.
You won’t be prepared unless you prepare for the unthinkable by considering carefully what is possible – whether the problem barrels ahead like a freight train or inches forward at the speed of a turtle. In either case, the time will come when you will need a speedy response. The only way to respond rapidly when that time arrives is to prepare diligently now.
Reputations have a nasty habit of going in the toilet in a hurry.