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Managing Uncertainty

Dec 27, 2019

In this week's episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal & Chief Executive Bryan Strawser discusses the goals of a crisis management framework & process at your organization.

Topics discussed include crisis management, frameworks, crisis teams, crisis communications, social media, reputation management, business continuity, and long-term recovery efforts.

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Episode Transcript

Bryan Strawser: Hello and welcome to the managing uncertainty podcast. This is Bryan Strawser, principal and chief executive here at Bryghtpath and I'm flying solo today. I'm recording this the last full week of the year, just after Christmas 2019. And the office is quite quiet today, which is a good time to do some creative work, but I want to talk a little bit about the goal of crisis management or what we're really trying to get at when we talk about crisis management processes and frameworks. Really what are we trying to go after when it comes to crisis management?

Bryan Strawser: As we think about crisis management, I think it's important to ponder and understand the fact that a business can experience many different types of crises during the life cycle, the course of business that they're engaged in. Those can range from data breaches to natural disasters, to violent attacks, to executive misconduct and everything that's kind of in-between there.

Bryan Strawser: The goal of crisis management as we think about it is to have a system in place to effectively address the coordinated response, the resources, internal and external communication requirements during and after the negative situation. And in fact, I would even argue that we're really trying to do this before, from a preparedness standpoint, before the boom or as Juliette Kayyem, from Harvard, likes to say left of boom. That we have this opportunity to prepare these things before the boom happens, before the critical moments.

Bryan Strawser: How you accomplish these tasks as an organization will impact your organization's reputation and your ability to recover your business operations. Let's talk a little bit about just potential crisis situations. We would argue here at Bryghtpath that your crisis planning is based upon challenges, reasonable challenges, that we think your company might face. And that you should try to identify those events that are most likely to happen in order to develop an appropriate response in advance. Again, a left of boom preparedness activity.

Bryan Strawser: All businesses, for example, are at risk of data breaches. The severity might be different depending upon what your particular industry is. Customer service problems, a loss of competitive advantage. There are also other risks that are inherent to specific types of businesses, manufacturing, retail service focus businesses. So we would argue that you should review your current business practices, your areas of focus, your past problems and disruptions and work to identify issues that could severely damage your organization and then make sure that you have a plan in place to address them. Keeping in mind that you may need to take some different steps or different protocols to address various situations.

Bryan Strawser: Behind all of this, we look for a coordinated response. We look for a consistent crisis management framework that outlines how you will make decisions and how you will communicate the results of those decisions from your organization. Your biggest enemy during a crisis is confusion. If your team, if your leaders, do not have a clear plan of leadership and action, then mistakes can be made that will just exasperate the situation.

Bryan Strawser:: So in our framework, we want to make sure that we're identifying who will be responsible for what actions and then make sure that we understand how we're going to communicate the results of those actions both internally and externally as appropriate. There's a lot of ways to set up a crisis management team and we've talked about those in other episodes of our podcast. But as you think about roles and responsibilities, here's a couple of assignments that you should consider.

Bryan Strawser: You want an immediate response team when there are physical injuries or a fatality, particularly if you're in a manufacturing environment, it's kind of like your emergency response team that's at the impacted location. You might even have medical personnel, maybe you're a college or university and so you may have EMTs, or paramedics, or even emergency physicians who might respond. But what is that emergency response team, that immediate response team that needs to happen?

Bryan Strawser: We want to make sure that we have defined internal communication liaisons who can collect and disseminate accurate information across the organization as well as necessary updates to those in leadership positions. But this person, or persons, is really focused on how do I tell the team the business writ large, what's going on? The external communication liaison, who is responsible for managing your interactions with the media. They're monitoring and managing your social media exchanges. They're making sure that you have a crafted and clear unified statement that you're presenting as a company externally during your disruption.

Bryan Strawser: And then you may have a post-crisis team that's different than your crisis management team. Your crisis management team is managing those day to day, hour by hour, minute by minute decisions that need to be made. But you want to have a post-crisis team who is really focused on managing the recovery, the long term recovery, of what's going on within the organization. They manage the ongoing crisis management activities that could go on for weeks or months until everything is resolved. They would really be focused on the issues raised by the incident, illegal legal, health, safety, and marketing challenges. The goal of these assignments and the goal of your crisis management framework is to be prepared to be able to respond quickly and respond effectively with this coordinated effort in place.

Bryan Strawser: From a resource standpoint during a crisis, you don't want your team to be scrambling for the necessary resources to resolve the problem. Instead, you want to make sure that you have plans in place for these specific scenarios that will allow your company to continue its operations despite the crisis. For example, if your building is leveled by a tornado, or there's a vendor who no longer provides a key component or service, you want to make sure that you have resource options laid out so that you can minimize the longterm effects that the crisis will have on your business. So these are resources you want to identify and have in place in advance.

Bryan Strawser: The next big category is crisis communications, and this is one that's always a challenge when we think about the goals of crisis management and it's one that really is exasperated and made much more difficult by the presidents and use of social media. But that's the world we live in. So we have to be able to work with that hand that has been dealt with. So as we think about how do the goals for crisis communications, how does that line up with our overall goals here for crisis management? Well, we want to make sure that communication internally and externally is being published by your internal and external communication liaisons or individuals from your communications teams that have that authority. Because we want to make sure we're sending a very clear, consistent message. We don't want to see a mixed message or any sharing of gossip or anything like that. We want a single source of truth coming out of your crisis management team and being published internally and externally as appropriate.

Bryan Strawser: We want to make sure that your message here reflects the values of your organization and is disseminated through the right media and social media challenges. We want to make sure you're using the right resources. I know for many of you that might be listening to this episode of the podcast, you might not have a crisis communications team internally. Don't hesitate to contact an organization that can help you with those services in your critical moments. In fact, I would argue that companies have really any size should have an organization that has crisis communications capability on retainer, or available. The access is guaranteed through some contractual mechanism.

Bryan Strawser: When we think about the internal communication aspects of crisis communications, internal comms is the one that I think often gets ignored or minimized. But it is in my mind, vital to the success of your communication processes. Internal communication is critical because it gives your employees, your team, your peers, your leaders, accurate information. It relieves their anxiety and stress. It reinforces your corporate policies about social media and other authorized communications. It's your way of disseminating the corporate message of the crisis and it involves employees who are really serving as ambassadors of your organization and it turns them into a crisis management asset.

Bryan Strawser: Your internal crisis communications begins with your crisis management plan. It should be disseminated to staff as appropriate throughout orientation and training and et cetera, and there should be ongoing training to ensure that your staff understands the process before an event occurs. We want to make sure that all of your employees understand what's expected of them in a crisis and what they can expect from the company in terms of communication, leadership and crisis management decision making.

Bryan Strawser: The other side of the crisis communications puzzle is external communication. Whether you're having disruption to your manufacturing production or you've got an insider trading investigation that has ensnared one of your executives, you will likely have crisis situations where you have to share information publicly. You're going to do that through the media and social media.

Bryan Strawser: Reputation management, is at the heart of external crisis communications. So here are some things, some guidelines to think about as you think about communicating externally. You want to make sure that you're responding thoughtfully rather than reacting emotionally to what's going on. You should identify one spokesperson for the event. An executive or a local business leader is a better choice than a communication professional because they're from the business. They're in the line of management of where the disruption is happening, they're the right person to be the face of what's going on. Particularly if this is a facility that is, like a branch facility or manufacturing facility. You want the local leader to be front and center for this. Make sure that you have an immediate response communication team that's identified, or a crisis communications team that's identified so that when this happens you're able to activate them to work on the messaging aspects.

Bryan Strawser: You should have already identified your communication channels to inform your stakeholders. Think about key clients, key influencers, corporate sponsors, clients in that area, people that you want to notify of the crisis and its potential impact. And then put a good plan in place in terms of a cadence of updates as the situation evolves and do this unless your legal counsel tells you that you shouldn't be providing updates, you should be providing regular updates both internally and externally. External communication often, almost always, thought about and considered and a part of the plan, but it is one of the most challenging aspects of the crisis management process. So again, don't be afraid to use an outside resource to help you develop and manage these situations.

Bryan Strawser: To summarize, successful crisis management from our mind begins with identifying possible disruptions that can occur and then creating a solid approach to preparedness, response, recovery, sitting on top of a foundation of having the right resources and the right communication plans. Your goal as a business leader is to be effective in managing all aspects of this crisis, to ensure the longterm success of your business and using experts where necessary as resources to develop, implement, and execute your plan in a crisis.

Bryan Strawser: If we can help you in any way, our experts here at Bryghtpath have built, implemented, and managed the crisis management processes used by many fortune 100 firms, as well as small to medium enterprises around the globe. I'd love to talk with you about how you can leverage our experiences and knowledge to improve your organization's resilience.

Bryan Strawser: Drop us a note at or give us a call at (612) 235-6435 we'd love to help. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Managing Uncertainty podcast. We'll be back next week with our final episode for 2019. Thanks for listening.