by Jennifer Wilson
My first two articles on crisis management reviewed why each of us should have a crisis management plan in place for situations such as a client lawsuit, loss of a major client or key employee, or an unexpected death, and we identified the components, or steps, to building a successful crisis management plan. This final article offers insights into how to put your plan into action and manage a crisis event when it occurs.
The crisis scenario, similar to one of those that your Crisis Management Team outlined in your planning sessions, has occurred: The individual who is responsible for several large client engagements and the leader of your IT consulting team has become suddenly and gravely ill and will be unable to return to work for six months.
Are you prepared to address the situation? Where do you begin? Follow these four steps once the event has occurred.
When a crisis finally strikes, it is vital that the leader in your organization immediately take charge by notifying the members of the CMT. The team’s first course of action should be to assess the situation, compare it to the scenarios developed during the planning process and agree to any changes in action based upon the differences between the “real” situation and the hypothetical ones.
Once the group has declared a plan of action, the leader of your firm should state that the plan is “in action.” The members should be given the authority to begin their tasks and be held accountable for performing their assigned tasks.
Above all, the leader should remain calm and unemotional, and should exude confidence that the situation will be managed positively. Breakdowns, recriminations and negativity are luxuries in which true leaders cannot afford to indulge.
Internal and external communication is critical during crisis times — especially at the onset of the event. Once your formal position has been defined, seek legal counsel if necessary, and then communicate your messages to the appropriate audiences using one spokesperson from your firm.
Start first by informing the appropriate members of your firm’s staff, so that they are aware of the crisis and to ensure that they understand and are prepared to support the firm’s position and plans. This step is often overlooked, and can cause your organization to display a lack of unity or clarity due to a lack of information — which will not be comforting to those inside or outside your company.
As you communicate, your messages should reflect that the firm is taking responsibility for the resolution of the crisis at hand, if appropriate, and reinforce the firm’s record and commitment relative to the situation. Your communications should express your commitment to whatever plan is
devised, and the audiences affected should be updated frequently as the situation changes.
Stay in touch
As the leader of your firm, you should stay in close touch with the situation by continuing to meet with the Crisis Management Team to re-assess the situation and identify any actions that need to be altered or added to address the current circumstances.
It is important that you remain visible throughout the crisis and not hide in strategy sessions or behind a spokesperson. Also, it is helpful to personally visit the site of the problem — in our example, the clients affected by the change in project leadership, and meeting with the consulting team — to assess the situation firsthand, if appropriate.
Know when it’s over
Be prepared to declare that the event has passed, but only when it is truly over. Once the event has passed, meet with your Crisis Team to critique your efforts and identify opportunities that may have arisen as a result of the situation. Assess what worked and what you could have improved upon, and adjust your crisis plan accordingly. Then, acknowledge that the event has passed and refocus your team on the business at hand!
If you haven’t already begun the process, take copies of this three-article series to your next firm leadership meeting and discuss how your firm can best go about implementing a crisis management plan.
Do so, and be prepared to turn your next crisis into a genuine opportunity for your firm.
Jennifer Wilson is co-founder and owner of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC (www.convergencecoaching.com), a leadership and marketing consulting firm that specializes in helping CPA and IT firms achieve success.
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