chess game

It’s obvious to say that all companies in 2018 should have a formal crisis plan developed and at the ready in the event that a potential threat snowballs into a situation demanding an organized response. However, it’s shocking to see how many of these plans still use the dated model of 50-page documents that more closely resemble encyclopedias than ready-to-deploy game plans for navigating a crisis.

The exercise of developing one of these text-heavy, over-weight documents can still serve a purpose. The process forces you to think about potential threats, centralize information and identify aspects of crisis management that you didn’t think of before.  However, the demanding nature of actually responding to a crisis situation in 2018 (almost 2019) is too fast-moving and unpredictable for this model to be a truly actionable resource.

Crisis plans support a company’s risk management efforts. They are go-to manuals that provide pre-customized roadmaps for a company’s leadership to follow when normal operations are disrupted by unforeseen events that could damage the reputation of the company or its stakeholders.  These road maps should be simple, direct and applicable – so when a potential threat is reported, there is an actionable resource that will streamline and drive the company’s response, as opposed to an overwhelming document that will further complicate the process.

The traditional crisis plan model includes far too much unnecessary content. While this information may be useful to know for background (and educational) purposes, it’s counterproductive to what should be a resource that functions like a cheat sheet.  An effective crisis plan is tailor-made to match a company’s DNA and – across a range of potential scenarios – help with:

  • Gathering available information;
  • Engaging relevant stakeholders;
  • Responding quickly and effectively;
  • Repairing any reputational damage; and
  • Mitigating any further risk.

The only components that should be included in a crisis plan are those critical to achieving the objectives outlined above, such as:

  • Who are the designated members of the crisis response team;
  • What the roles and responsibilities are of everyone on the crisis response team;
  • How to assess threat levels;
  • How to determine the appropriate response path for each threat level;
  • How to determine the appropriate communications channels for each situation; and
  • Templated baseline communications for all stakeholder audiences covering the most likely scenarios.

Components such as processes for reporting potential threats, employee policies during a crisis, and basic principles of crisis management can all be helpful to establish within a company’s overall operations, but they are the equivalent of clutter when included in an official crisis plan. The general rule of thumb is to keep the amount of content as focused and accessible as possible. The plan loses its actionability as the critical information becomes harder to find and follow.

Bottom line:  When a crisis hits, a company needs to react quickly and avoid making mistakes. Clearly not having a crisis plan at all puts you at significant disadvantage, but having one developed that’s not actionable isn’t a solution. If you are going to invest the time and resources into developing a plan, make sure that the end product is not just a dated encyclopedia of company policies and procedures – create a resource that will make a difference when the stakes are highest.