I learned a valuable lesson yesterday. If you park your car under a tree with the windows down, a bird may just poop in it. In other words, if you do the things that set your organization up for a crisis, a crisis is probably what you’ll get.
Many people are caught off guard when crises blindside their organizations. The interesting element is that crisis researchers have found the majority of non-natural disaster crises had been percolating for some amount of time before they escalated to “a breaking crisis.” That means something eventually disruptive to the organization’s operation and potentially threatening to its reputation took root and grew as part of the organization’s DNA until it erupted.
With the majority of crises slow in the making and preventable, here are three questions organizations should ask to reduce risks and lessen the possibility of a crisis.
1. Are we creating favorable conditions for a crisis?
Obviously there is no way to control or prevent every crisis, but a significant number of organizational crises are due to poor customer service or poor product quality – or both. Every crisis should be seen as an attack against brand identity. See crises as meters running, draining away brand equity and organizational resources the longer they continue and the worse they are handled. Unfortunately, too many organizations create self-inflicted crises because they don’t respond well or quickly to customer service issues or issues like consistently mishandled employee layoffs, poor management-employee relations, a history of environmental irresponsibility, etc. Lingering issues create petri dishes for disasters so wise organizations examine their cultures to identify if conditions are favorable for crises. (Read: How to successfully launch a crisis in three easy steps)
2. Are we paying attention to the environment in which we operate?
Too often organizations are so focused on doing their “thing” they fail to keep a pulse on the surrounding environment. This is different than keeping an eye on competitors. In the age of social media, someone within the organization needs to keep watch on what others are saying about the organization and the industry category in which the organization participates. This is to obviously identify brewing issues before they manifest into five-alarm crises. However, it is also a good litmus to know if anybody is even positively talking about the organization. If there is no chatter, it could be a sign the organization’s marketing strategy isn’t all that great. (Read: Is your social media marketer prepared to handle a crisis and Social media attacks: are you prepared?)
3. Are we reacting quickly enough when a crisis develops?
Every organization faces crises and if it hasn’t it will. Again, social media affords ample opportunity for disgruntled customers to wage an anti-brand campaign, even if it is unmerited. Crisis response time is critical. Respond quickly and effectively and an organization positively effects the conditions and trajectory of the crisis. Respond slowly and clumsily and people begin to get the impression the organization’s leaders are incompetent and not being transparent. Crisis planning and practice significantly improve response time. (Read: Social media, crises and “Who” and Social media, crisis and “Who” Part 2).
“Sudden” crises are much easier to prevent than most people believe, but it takes a willingness on the part of leadership to evaluation the overall environment of the organization to better understand if conditions are ripe for a crisis, if the organization has a high level of contextual awareness and if “flare ups” are being dealt with efficiently and effectively.
In other words, a little forethought helps keep the organizational windows up, preventing a very messy crisis.