Crisis Planning – A Letter to CEOs
As 2015 approaches, leaders naturally turn their attention to assess what challenges the new year will bring. Proactive leaders take the next step and immediately begin to evaluate what should be done to prepare appropriately.
There are always a number of challenges that could confront an organization in any given year, ranging from financial performance to global expansion to acquisitions, all of which are important. However, addressing your organization’s crisis preparedness should be first on the list.
Having been in the position of handling several crises during my years as CEO of The New York Times Company, I understood all too well that having a crisis management plan in place was, and is, one of the most valuable weapons a CEO can have. Whether you are dealing with cyber security attacks, product failures, employee safety or other equally difficult issues, it is critical to arm yourself now.
The magnitude of a modern-day crisis is daunting when one considers all that can go wrong and the possible impact on business performance and corporate reputation. Grasping the true consequences of crisis failure moves forward-thinking CEOs to address this challenge before all others.
While I was at The New York Times Company, our leadership team managed two separate kidnappings of Times journalists, deaths of several reporters in the line of duty, incarceration of several journalists at home and abroad, the full impact of the 9/11 attack in New York, shareholder activism and a plagiarism scandal. Having experienced these crises, I would say without hesitation that leading through a crisis helps one clearly understand the absolute need to make crisis preparedness a key priority.
Confronting the vulnerability of the organization provides a CEO and the leadership team with the vital information they need to prepare their strategic response with exacting discipline and detail. Yes, we all know that there is no level of preparation that can prevent a crisis or create perfect solutions. However, developing a strategic and tactical plan enhances the leadership team’s ability to navigate more effectively and efficiently through a crisis.
The crisis plan should be fully integrated and thought through well beforehand. This ensures that strategic conflicts between various departments are ironed out without the pressure of an actual crisis and that decisions are strategic, not just expedient. This preparedness can prove to be invaluable when the media barrage begins, when customers abandon the brand, when operations are interrupted or halted, when financial performance begins to be severely impacted or when legal action is taken.
The crisis management strategy should adhere to, and project, the organization’s values. It should be disciplined. It should expand across all media platforms. It must be simple enough for all to understand. It must be flexible and adaptable, and it must enable you to reach all stakeholders with appropriate messages. It must define what happened, who is impacted, the financial and legal exposure. It must deliver the corporate messages and define how the organization will regain control after crisis.
So today, as leaders examine the major land mines they may face in 2015, they should consider that facing a crisis is an increasingly real possibility. Leaders of today must prepare now and continually assess vulnerability and update their crisis preparedness plans. By doing so, they move closer to crisis prevention and to the likelihood of managing an effective crisis recovery. When an organization is in crisis, facing legal, financial and reputational consequences, all parties will quickly realize that the amount of money that they have spent on crisis management preparedness is worth so much MORE than every penny.
And those who faced major crises recently should consider taking the time to evaluate how your team and strategy performed, and share those lessons with others. By doing so, CEOs and crisis teams can position themselves as seasoned and successful corporate leaders. This willingness to share and coach will also underscore the team’s successful management of a crisis and will reinforce the strength, value and importance of the organization to all.
As a member of the FleishmanHillard International Advisory Board, I look forward to engaging with leaders interested in learning more about my experience in crisis management and my perspective on crisis preparedness.
Janet L. Robinson