In-crisis decision making: Communicate or expect the worse

Get free weekly news by e-mailThe third in a series of articles on crisis management critical success factors, by Dennis C. Hamilton.

Crisis Management Critical Success Factor:

A crisis response team, adopting a structured in-crisis process, can make effective decisions, however, if it cannot communicate those decisions and resulting actions to those who need to know, it will have the same impact as not making a decision to begin with. Whether providing information or instructions to employees, countering rumours or issuing proactive communications to external stakeholders (i.e. customers, the media, critical service providers) the need to issue time-sensitive communications at the outset, during and after a crisis situation is the operational foundation of crisis management. Every decision has a consequence and will always result in a response on the part of others. In the absence of vital information, internal and external stakeholders will apply their own assumptions and readily make decisions; usually with an unfavourable outcome.

In-crisis communications can be defined as: ‘The dissemination of information or instructions to internal and external stakeholders whose actions or inaction will have a measurable impact on the organization’s ability to effectively manage a crisis situation.’

Role of in-crisis communications

* Provide executive and line management with information necessary to make strategic and tactical operational decisions.

* Provide threat and event status information relevant to internal and external stakeholders.

* Manage rumours, speculation, perception and the application of assumptions as facts.

* Mitigate real-time operational risks.

* Demonstrate that proactive corporate due-diligence was applied at the onset of and during a life threatening situation.

* Provide action or no-action instructions to targeted stakeholders.

* Provide time-sensitive information to ensure the safety and well-being of employees.

* Satisfy regulatory or mandated reporting requirements.

* Keep the organization’s first responders and various emergency response teams, business continuity and recovery teams focused on their response roles by sharing information and assistance to balance their commitments to the organization and obligations to their families.

The requirement

Communication requirements in a crisis can be summed up very simply:

* Communicate to possibly thousands or even tens of thousands of stakeholders,

* Utilize multiple communication channels (telephone, email, cell phone, PDA, text messaging, fax) to ensure contact will be made,

* Reach stakeholders within minutes or very few hours.

Technological advancements in mass communications have created wide-spread and permanent expectations on the part of employees and other stakeholders; expectations that are founded on the belief that the organization possesses the capability to provide timely and vital information.

A fully automated communications / notification capability is no longer an operational nicety; the era of manual call-trees is over.

This capability can be effectively satisfied through an internally provided communications facility or through a commercially provided service. In most cases, organizations have determined that the lower cost and well-maintained capabilities of commercially provided services far outweigh any advantages of an internally developed and maintained solution.

A word of advice - don’t justify the use of an automated solution solely based on your in-crisis requirements; there are countless non-emergency uses lying in wait for a solution. Organize and facilitate a planning workshop with business leaders throughout the organization to identify uses of a communications tool; the number of justifying applications will astound you!

Consequence of failed communications

Executive management, board of directors and regulatory agencies have or will have in a crisis, expectations that your organization possesses a communications capability and that you can effectively and in a timely manner provide required information and instructions to all stakeholders in a crisis situation.

If you cannot meet these expectations, ensure the most senior executive of your organization has categorically stated and documented the decision that the organization will assume all risks and consequences of failed communications. Those risks include;

* Loss of life or serious injuries due to the slow provision of critical life-safety information and instructions,

* Liability of executive management, board of directors and senior management due to failure in the provision of adequate protection and care of employees,

* Negative media reactions based on rumours, innuendo and the absence of fact-based information,

* Loss of employee trust in management that the organization will in fact provide adequate care and protection to employees while at work,

* Unfavourable market reaction by customers and shareholders,

* Random and conflicting decision-making by various managers having misguided, but good intent,

* Failure to satisfy regulatory requirements,

* Costly delays in response by the organizations first responders and business leaders,

* Failure to meet the legal and operational requirements of corporate due diligence,

* A permanent change in the organization’s highly valued culture; which in turn affects productivity, loyalty, work ethic and long terms success or failure of the organization.

Of course if you have already implemented an automated communications solution, that is a great start. Ensure it is designed to support what could be complex in-crisis requirements and processes of crisis management and all other emergency response practices of your crisis preparedness program.

Author: Dennis C. Hamilton, Hon FBCI, is the president of Crisis Response Planning Corporation, an internationally recognized emergency management consulting services company. For over 20 years Dennis has been dedicated to the discipline of crisis management, earning the recognition and reputation as one of North America’s foremost practitioners and advisors to businesses in all primary industries. Dennis can be reached at 416-500-5517 or

CRPC Copyright 2010

Read the previous articles in this series:

1) In-crisis decision making: resolving the dilemma

2) In-crisis decision making: the authority to act

•Date: 5th March 2010 • Region: US/World •Type: Article •Topic: Crisis management
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