It is a rare business that will never face a crisis and it is estimated on average this is likely to happen every four or five years.
Aside from unexpected events, such as natural disasters, a crisis be anything from a financial problem to a massive data hack, to potential reputational damage arising from inept handling of customers or stakeholders or even a product liability issue.
Effective handling of the crisis situation is crucial to the company’s reputation and in some instances to its very survival.
While those affected by the crisis will most likely look to to directors and managers for guidance, they are unlikely to be effective without leadership and clear messages from their CEO personally.
How should leaders manage a business crisis?
While it is important to have appropriate systems and procedures in place for crisis management leaders can only be effective if there is a clear strategy based on a careful assessment of the situation. Often this requires scenario planning well ahead of any crisis so that early action can be taken.
The directors and managers will not be speaking with a unified voice unless they are given clear direction by their CEO.
The CEO should set the tone, and this may include acknowledging that mistakes have been made along with clear guidance on what statements can be made publicly about what the business is doing to address the situation.
So, the first step is for the CEO to ensure that the directors and managers are delivering the right message.
To do this, a crisis management team is needed, one with situation specific skills to deal with the crisis and with the communication skills to get the CEO’s messages out to all stakeholders.
Empathy without emotion will help deal with those affected when people are scared and key people need to be involved so that decisions are made and implemented while at the same time acknowledging the fear and pain among those who are affected.
The CEO should remain positive and reassuring, dampening any understandable urge to resolve the situation immediately, which is not always possible. The steps that need to be taken should be understood and wherever possible communicated to all those affected as well as to those responsible for dealing with the crisis.
An effective leader needs to be both self-aware and have a large measure of self-control.
They will need to demonstrate an understanding of others’ feelings while at the same time remaining clear-headed and focused on dealing with the crisis. This will mean fostering teamwork to minimise conflicts among crisis team members, internal staff and external stakeholders and ensure everyone stays on track during the process of handling and overcoming the crisis.
The objectives of any crisis management project are normally to minimise disruption and minimise reputational damage with the aim of restoring normal operations as quickly as possible. However all too often a focus on minimising costs and apportioning blame gets in the way and leads to a consequential fall out and a long-term damage to reputation.
Leaders take tough decisions which sometimes will need investment of time and money in resolving a crisis rather than running scared themselves.