Boards: Ask Tough Questions About Crisis Management. Please.

A recent PRNews/ CS&A International survey said that 62 percent of organizations have a crisis management plan.  Not surprisingly, the results also showed that less than half of those surveyed said their plan was up to date.  I’m no mathematician, but that tells me that in reality, less than one-third of organizations are well prepared for a crisis. It is disturbing that in this pandemic age, so many organizations fail to address such a critical strategic weakness.

Increasingly, it is boards of directors who must take the lead in assuring that their organizations are well prepared for a crisis. This is appropriate and important to directing management to take the actions needed to be crisis ready.  To that end, there are several key questions that boards need to be asking of executives while holding them accountable for a lack of crisis planning and preparedness.

  • Does the company culture support honest, timely and transparent communication with stakeholders? Can employees report concerns without fear of retaliation?

If there is a “shoot the messenger” culture, it may be difficult to uncover the issues that put organizations most at risk, including mismanagement, harassment and discrimination, cyber security, and other “smoldering” crises that can crush reputation and brand value.

  • Do we have a robust risk management function that continually scans the environment and assesses new risks as they emerge? Do we have a risk management committee that meets regularly to discuss trends and changes in our risk profile?
  • Do we have a comprehensive, recently updated crisis management plan that addresses operational and reputational crises and business continuity/recovery?
    • If yes, were the plans exercised in the past year? If no, why not?
    • Do the plans include scenario-specific action steps?

Companies often prepare for operational crises like natural disasters but have not considered the most frequent kinds of crises. Our research at the Institute for Crisis Management has consistently shown that two-thirds or more of crises that make the news are smoldering issues that could have been prevented and mitigated before they became full-blown crises. An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure when it comes to crisis.

  • Is there a clear chain of command when a crisis strikes?
  • Do we have a crisis communication plan that includes specific strategies and messaging for all the potential crises that are high probability and/or high impact?
    • Does the messaging incorporate care, compassion and empathy where appropriate?
  • Do we have the communications infrastructure and technology to deliver relevant messaging quickly 24/7 across all priority stakeholder groups?
  • Have we identified spokespersons and provided annual media training to sharpen their skills?
  • Do we have a crisis management team? Do they meet at least quarterly? Do they know their roles in a crisis? Have they been trained on how to use the crisis plans effectively?

This list provides a foundation for the crucial discussions that boards and executives should be having now.  So, what are you waiting for?

President and CEO, Institute for Crisis Management

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