What’s a crisis? A crisis is a people stopping, product stopping, show stopping, reputationally defining or trust busting event that creates victims and/or explosive visibility.
The operative word in this definition is the word “victims.” Just blowing things up or burning things down, but failing to hurt, kill, or threaten people or animals are certainly adverse circumstances, but they are not crises. The production of victims is the crucial ingredient of crisis.
Ninety-five percent of all crises come from what an organization, business or agency does in its normal course of activity every day. This means that it is very likely that there are people who are on duty or nearby who know what to do when adversity occurs. Therefore, when the boss looks at you askance as you propose something right in the bailiwick of the company and says, “We don’t need to prepare for that,” and you look surprised or hurt, the boss wonders about you.
If you fly airplanes, there are problems you can forecast and smart people around to help fix them. If you ship food, there are complications you can forecast and there are tools, expertise and facilities ready to deal with those situations. If you haul passengers, teach children, or provide public assistance or special kinds of help, you intuitively know (or should know) the risks.
Operational problems and crises are far less likely to damage reputation and credibility. This is just because they are responded to more quickly or more appropriately due to the availability of knowledgeable help.
The remaining five percent of crises come from non-operating circumstances. Think of them as circumstances for which management can’t take a class in graduate school. These circumstances are often highly emotional and there is an unwillingness, fear or great concern about doing anything to resolve them.
These non-operating problems include scenarios such as bullying, employee violence, trauma, massive casualties, kidnapping, extortion, sexual harassment, criminal behavior, . . . you get the idea.
Because there is almost no expertise inside organizations to manage these problems the instant they occur, a combination of high-level emotion and fear, coupled with lack of knowledge, causes hesitation, delay, mistakes and significant reputational damage.
When choosing the scenarios to prepare for, choose mostly from that five percent non-operating category, because the boss’ career is more likely to be defined by those circumstances.
For more wisdom on gaining community consent, you can spend a very interesting 90 minutes with me via webinar on Thursday, April 29, 3 p.m. EDT learning about “Building Effective Crisis Plans: Learn to Identify Crisis-causing Risks and How Your Crisis Plan Can Pass Seven Powerful Tests.”
James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, CCEP, chairman and president, The Lukaszewski Group Inc., is one of public relations most frequently quoted and prolific authors/crisis communication management consultants. He helps prepare spokespersons for crucial public appearances and local and network news interviews including “20-20,” “60 Minutes,” “Dateline NBC,” “Nightline,” financial analyst meetings, and legislative and congressional testimony. Sign up for Jim’s free Executive Action eNewsletter at www.e911.com. Connect with James on LinkedIn and on Twitter @Jimlukaszewski.