Several months ago I wrote a piece about what to do before a crisis hits, 10 Things to Do Before a Crisis. Sometimes, despite the best-laid plans, a crisis still hits. Below I have laid out five steps to help guide you through a crisis that has already hit.
1/ Define what success looks like. To get out of a crisis you need to know where you are going and recognize when you have gotten there. Clearly define your vision of what success looks like and the steps to get there.
Note, success is rarely returning to where you were before the crisis struck. Most often it is a new place -hopefully one where a future crisis is less likely to strike and where, even if it does, you are better prepared to recover from it. Much of the conventional wisdom states that it takes 3+ years to fully recover from an organizational crisis. So, be sure to focus on the long game while putting out the immediate fires.
2/ Trust your gut. Advice is ample, good advice is much harder to find. When a crisis hits you will find no shortage of advice from friends, consultants, and stakeholders. From personal experience much of this advice is bad, sometimes downright horrible. Some is fantastic. Developing a way to sort between the two, implementing the good and kindly disregarding the rest, is difficult, especially when the stakeholders are influential. However, it’s important to trust your gut in these times. You are charged with executing the best interest of the organization and no one knows it better than you.
3/ Don’t confuse inputs for outcomes. Everyone, even when not under pressure, makes this mistake. In a crisis, it especially magnified. You will be barraged with a constant stream of important meetings about this crisis, responding to stakeholders, press inquiries etc. Fires of all proportions will emerge that you have to constantly tend to. You will be busier than you have ever been in your life, but is that effort accomplishing things or is it just motion? Prioritize your energy on items that actually move the ball forward.
4/ Develop specific asks for people that want to help. You aren’t likely to be able to solve your problems by yourself - you will need outside help from aligned third parties, friends, consultants, etc. Develop very specific ways for them to help. Establish good inbound and outbound engagement strategies to reach those who want to help.
5/ Constantly communicate you progress and recovery with internal and external stake holders. According to market research done by the PR firm Burson-Marsteller, making progress/recovery visible is one of the most impactful crisis recovery strategies. Your stakeholders must see your efforts and your successes.
One final piece of advice is: don’t let the crisis cripple you and prevent you from doing what you need to be doing. Stay on track with the regular work of your organization. It may be a few years, but you can recover from a crisis. The organizations that don’t survive, typically are the ones that let the crisis distract them from delivering their core work. Hopefully these 5 steps will help you weather the storm and come out no worse for wear.
Chaz Cirame is the Founder of Cc: External Affairs, Inc.
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Cc: External Affairs, Inc. – helps corporations, trade associations, public affairs firms and non-profits develop long-term partnerships to reach and exceed their goals - be they shaping public opinion, achieving legislative outcomes, or building lasting strategic alliances.