Critical success factors for effective crisis management

Get free weekly news by e-mailBy David Perl, chief executive, Docleaf Crisis & Risk Management

Much has been written on the subject of crisis management over the years. The amount of research has increased exponentially over the past few years following the impact of 9/11, SARS and more latterly the Asian tsunami.

Whilst academic research is all well and good sometimes ‘coal-face’ experience can count for more.

Given the number of crises the Docleaf team have been involved with, we present our list of what we deem to be the critical success factors in managing a crisis - these are not in any particular order:

Perhaps the most important CSF required. We have seen it time and time again where a crisis truly tests the performance of the chosen leader. Can your nominated crisis leaders answer yes to all the following?

- The ability to multitask
- Excellent delegation skills
- Cool under pressure
- Ability to empathise
- Able to make quick and effective decisions
- Listens but comfortable in calling tough choices
- Self-awareness
- Communication skills
- Ability to prioritise
- Time management
- Empowered to spend company funds

Speed of response
Often referred to as the ‘golden hour’. This is analogous to the medical golden hour. If a critically injured person is treated at a centre of excellence within one hour, their chances of survival increase significantly. Pretty much the same applies to crisis management. If your crisis response is off to a rapid start, your chances for reputation damage decrease. This will only occur if you have an effective plan - see the next point.

A robust plan
Noah built the Ark before the rains came. It is for this good reason you should develop robust workable plans before the crisis. Even if you have a plan:

- Do you have a comprehensive crisis plan?
- Or is it just a communication plan?
- When was it last updated?
- When were the contact details last checked?
- Who is on your nominated crisis team?
- When were they last trained?
- When did you last contact your team out of hours?
- When did you test with a simulation exercise?

Adequate resources
A big crisis is going to require a lot of help. These are just a few of the possible areas of support you will require - and remember crises can and often occur at the most inconvenient times - the recent tsunami is a case in point! Critical success factors include:

- Instant access to cash funds
- Ability to handle thousands of phone calls
- Able to continue business as usual
- Rapid transport to the incident scene
- Legal input
- Access to your insurance advisors
- Incident investigators
- Emotional support
- Adequately equipped command centre
- Ability to manage the media
- Able to deal with other communications issues

A crisis is not the time to be ‘penny-wise and pound-foolish’. Here is a short list of where costs can be generated. Very few of these areas are likely to be covered by your clients’/customers’ travel insurance or your own corporate insurances:

- Travel and accommodation costs
- Trauma counselling / professional emotional support
- Media / PR support
- Use of a telephone call handling facility
- Crisis advisors
- Staff overtime
- Replacing lost items for survivors
- Refund of holiday / travel costs where appropriate
- Possible compensation

Caring and compassionate response
Often overlooked, but in our opinion VITAL. However good you are managing everything else, if you are not using every effort to look after your staff and customers, we guarantee your crisis response is going to fall apart rapidly. Things to consider are:

- Teams have necessary people skills
- Communicate clearly with affected people
- Provide basic human needs at no cost i.e. food
- Look after customers emotional needs
- Consider your staff's emotional needs
- Be prepared to spend funds

Excellent communications
Whole books are written on this subject alone! Here are just a few thoughts:

- Develop a crisis communications plan
- Identify ALL your stakeholders
- Consider crisis media training
- Understand how the media works
- Work and win with the media
- Be on the front foot all the time
- Get a press release out within the golden hour
- Express Pity, Praise and Promise
- Tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth
- Never get defensive - however tough things get
- Be prepared with company information packs
- Get professional crisis communications support

David Perl can be contacted at

Date: 12th July 2005 •Region: US/World •Type: Article •Topic: Crisis management
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