- Posted by Poston Communications
- On September 2, 2020
- communications, crisis, crisis communications
From the global pandemic to murder hornets, and all the class-action lawsuits, hurricanes and other crises in between – 2020 has brought more than its fair share of challenges. In most organizations, executive leadership calls the shots in crisis. But it is not uncommon for individuals throughout the organization – who will undoubtedly play a role in a crisis – to feel out of the loop and, as a result, out of control. So what can individual leaders to do gain confidence and demonstrate their competence in crisis? Make a plan, of course!
Even the best organizational crisis plans can have gaps that inadvertently leave some individuals, groups or whole divisions out of critical crisis management situations. More often, we see organizations that have been left to make on-the-fly decisions without a comprehensive crisis management plan to serve as their guide – and thus cannot give individuals guidance, either. The result of both scenarios is stress, uncertainty and increased risk throughout the organization.
Empowering yourself to take back control can help you command any situation with confidence. By considering your individual role within the organization – and especially when a situation evolves into a full-blown crisis – you can more effectively manage the stress and increased workload that comes with any crisis, establish yourself as a dedicated and reliable leader, and be instrumental in bolstering your organization’s resiliency.
Moreover, creating a personal crisis plan can be transformative for your career. Law firm and legal department leaders often tell us how an individual acts in crisis is a top consideration in succession planning. Being prepared on a personal level can help you stand out while the organization itself finds its footing.
To create your plan, follow these steps:
- Identify risks. Think about all of the crises your organization has faced in the last several years (or, just 2020 for starters – we’ve had a lot to work with). Write down each situation and how you reacted, how you felt and what you would envision as the best-case result. A bullet journal is a great way you can start this task. Once you have an organized list, expand it to include risks that could impact key customers, vendors and competitors. How do those situations affect you and your organization? How would you want them to react? Write it down.
- Consider your role. Next, take a step back and look at the list of vulnerabilities compared to your job description. For each situation, write down ways you could help or harm the organization in its recovery. For example, a legal marketer could harm organizational recovery if they are not aware of a situation and inadvertently post an insensitive message on social media. Legal marketers, however, more often can help an organization. One way to do so is by developing client communications plans or reevaluating key partners’ business plans to pivot marketing efforts toward different markets or more lucrative opportunities.
- Stakeholders. Assign an internal stakeholder to each task. Who helps or harms your efforts? This task will help you identify who you need to seek counsel from to avoid a harmful task; and, who you can count on to help with those that will contribute to the organization’s recovery. Once you know who you need to coordinate with inside the firm, look externally for whom you would want to communicate. Who are the key stakeholders you are responsible for connecting with on behalf of the firm? Maybe it’s a vendor, customer or community partner.
- Develop an action plan. Rank each scenario along with its helpful / harmful tasks and key stakeholders, and then develop an action plan to help you achieve your best-case scenario. Your action plan should include a situation overview that describes the vulnerability and leaves space for you to input the Who, What, When, Where and Why when the crisis occurs. Then, write the helpful tasks you identified for taking control of the situation in order of how you would tackle them. Be sure to indicate when and how you’ll engage your stakeholders. Lastly, compare with your harmful tasks and include “speed bumps” to create important friction within your plan that will help you to slow down, seek counsel and make better decisions when activating your plan.
- Create a toolkit. Once you have a solid bank of three to five action plans, create a folder with templates and documentation that will help you activate your plan with confidence. Contact sheets, communications templates (e.g., email drafts, press releases, social media posts, etc.), and external resources like trusted vendors who can aid in your efforts are essential to have easily accessible.
Sound like a lot of work? It doesn’t have to be. Fit in crisis planning as you have time. Block a few hours once a month on your calendar just like you would for any other strategic initiative. Take it one vulnerability at a time, update your files as you go, and remember the ultimate goal is to become more crisis aware – allowing you to shift from a stressful, reactive response to a proactive place of confidence to take command no matter what comes next.
Megan Paquin is vice president at Poston Communications. She has been trusted to lead communications strategies for some of the world’s most respected brands. As a communicator, Megan thrives in complex, high-stakes situations. Her work in crisis management and litigation communications has proven essential to bolster the reputations of her clients.
Jackie Labrecque is an account supervisor at Poston Communications and supports the crisis and litigation PR team. She also leads Poston’s Video Division, producing stories and compelling content for our clients. She is a seasoned television broadcast journalist with years of helping brands and individuals tell their stories on camera.