There is no instruction manual when it comes to dealing with a crisis. Whether the crisis be unethical decisions by management, workplace violence, or, quite frankly, any incident that causes harm to your clients, facilities, or reputation, your initial response to the event will be how you will be judged.
First, let’s be clear: I don’t want you to confuse crisis management with a business continuity plan. Business continuity plans are essential for minimizing an interruption of internal operations (such as a collapse of the computer network, a website crash, etc.) and knowing what it will take to return to normal work schedules.
Poor crisis management, especially early-on, will lead to an onslaught of negative publicity. Don’t believe me? See Penn State’s initial response to the Jerry Sandusky scandal or BP’s response to yet another oil spill. These institutions have been vilified in the court of public opinion … not just for the actions in question, but also their terrible reactions to a crisis in the making.
Be prepared. Yes, the Boy Scout motto! Too many organizations have an attitude that bad things can’t and won’t happen to them. But they do. Consider establishing a communication plan for unique incidents. Flush out various responses to simulated situations. Appoint key personnel to serve on a crisis management team. Have mid- and senior-level executives receive training on interaction with journalists. Consult with legal, but do not hide behind legal verbiage.
The public can be very forgiving. If a problem arises that is not morally outrageous, sometimes the best response is to admit the error, apologize profusely, and communicate that apology on a widespread scale. To preserve your reputation, communication must begin immediately. Successful crisis management could be a chance for your company to shine and build (or rebuild) its brand.