ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
April 23, 2010

Metrics of Crisis: Building Effective Plans


What’s a crisis?  A crisis is a people stopping, product stopping, show stopping, reputationally defining or trust busting event that creates victims and/or explosive visibility.

The operative word in this definition is the word “victims.” Just blowing things up or burning things down, but failing to hurt, kill, or threaten people or animals are certainly adverse circumstances, but they are not crises. The production of victims is the crucial ingredient of crisis.

Ninety-five percent of all crises come from what an organization, business or agency does in its normal course of activity every day.  This means that it is very likely that there are people who are on duty or nearby who know what to do when adversity occurs. Therefore, when the boss looks at you askance as you propose something right in the bailiwick of the company and says, “We don’t need to prepare for that,” and you look surprised or hurt, the boss wonders about you.

If you fly airplanes, there are problems you can forecast and smart people around to help fix them. If you ship food, there are complications you can forecast and there are tools, expertise and facilities ready to deal with those situations. If you haul passengers, teach children, or provide public assistance or special kinds of help, you intuitively know (or should know) the risks.

Operational problems and crises are far less likely to damage reputation and credibility. This is just because they are responded to more quickly or more appropriately due to the availability of knowledgeable help.

The remaining five percent of crises come from non-operating circumstances. Think of them as circumstances for which management can’t take a class in graduate school. These circumstances are often highly emotional and there is an unwillingness, fear or great concern about doing anything to resolve them.

These non-operating problems include scenarios such as bullying, employee violence, trauma, massive casualties, kidnapping, extortion, sexual harassment, criminal behavior,  . . .  you get the idea.

Because there is almost no expertise inside organizations to manage these problems the instant they occur, a combination of high-level emotion and fear, coupled with lack of knowledge, causes hesitation, delay, mistakes and significant reputational damage.

When choosing the scenarios to prepare for, choose mostly from that five percent non-operating category, because the boss’ career is more likely to be defined by those circumstances.

For more wisdom on gaining community consent, you can spend a very interesting 90 minutes with me via webinar on Thursday, April 29, 3 p.m. EDT learning about “Building Effective Crisis Plans: Learn to Identify Crisis-causing Risks and How Your Crisis Plan Can Pass Seven Powerful Tests.” 

James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, CCEP, chairman and president, The Lukaszewski Group Inc., is one of public relations most frequently quoted and prolific authors/crisis communication management consultants. He helps prepare spokespersons for crucial public appearances and local and network news interviews including “20-20,” “60 Minutes,” “Dateline NBC,” “Nightline,” financial analyst meetings, and legislative and congressional testimony. Sign up for Jim’s free Executive Action eNewsletter at www.e911.com. Connect with James on LinkedIn and on Twitter @Jimlukaszewski.

Join Jim for his webinar, “Building Effective Crisis Plans: Learn to Identify Crisis-Causing Risks
and How Your Crisis Plan Can Pass Seven Powerful Tests
!”

  • Jim Lukaszewski

    We’ve moved well beyond the “They should have had a plan,” stage.

    Four actions are still needed:

    1. A genuine crisis manager appointed by POTUS running this entire operation who has the focus, intensity, independence, power, command authority and Chutzpah and maybe personal immunity to do whatever it takes to resolve this situation.
    (And, someone throwing a net over BPs CEO -He’s a Geologist)

    2. The mobilization (short of nationalization) of all off-shore drilling companies to form a consortium that will explore every possible option, strategic, and tactic. Rather than, as BP has chosen to do, one approach at a time, to get the oil!!! This is the engineering mind at work. Engineers make lousy crisis managers. Crisis managers think on many levels at the same time, keep an extraordinary number of complex things moving, while having a sense of what the end points (there will be hundreds over the next generation or more) actually look like and, therefore, keep people focused on each of hundreds of milestones and targets to accomplish. Every current, past and future offshore license is amended to compel participation.

    This same consortium will immediately be tasked to design a permanent response process to be activated by government the instant anything similar happens again.

    3. Washington, D.C. needs to shut down the totally politically motivated talk about investigations,persecutions and prosecutions, and putting people in jail. How does giving a public platform for several hundred weeping local state and federal politicians stop the flow of oil, or focus on permanent solutions? Besides, What does it matter how hard BP the volunteers and contractors work, how carefully they think, how dedicated they are to solving this problem of tomorrow, if the FBI or someone from the Department of Justice, or special prosecution force calls and these people have to hire a lawyer for $100,000. There is always time for investigations.

    4. A special word to the news media, dial it down. How about a moré factual approach for a while. All of the whiny, weepy scenes like the underwater stuff by ABC’s Good Morning America’s weatherman hasn’t solved one inch of the oil spill problem, but it has helped destroy tourism and make a lot of people fearful and angry, and we can see how helpful that is.

    Even if these suggestions were taken it won’t take more than a couple of weeks for us to see whoever the President names as the chief crisis manager spending more time testifying before Congress and state Legislatures (as Congress and state governments will micro manage things moving forward) than he or she will spend in the Gulf actually overseeing what’s going on.

    We need far fewer James Carville moments and a better sense of what the evolution of a cohesive multi-phase strategy to stop the oil from leaking looks like Once that happens, lots of other ideas about permanent solutions can float to the surface.

    The current approach is relying on BP getting lucky. Yes that’s the Company with the CEO who has permanently disturbed or destroyed the lives of millions of people who can hardly wait to get his life back. Newsflash for him: This is your legacy.