Sometimes communications is like first aid. We arrive on scene after something terrible has or is expected to happen and we are expected to apply “communications band aids” to the problem that will make it go away.
Of course, professional communicators have the experience and expertise to quickly diagnose issues and determine a course of action – organizational triage.
While I will admit to being an adrenalin junkie, my preferred entry point is an organizational scan to help uncover areas where the organization is vulnerable – before anything happens. (Download my Little JAd’E Book on Crisis Preparation at the bottom of this post.) This allows executives to examine the “what ifs” without the pressures of dealing with an emergency. That scan can help the organization assess the likelihood and effect of a particular incident happening. They can take a deep dive on those incidents that are most probable and/or could have the biggest impact.
When that exercise is done, decisions regarding what measures to take to prevent an incident and/or how to manage it if it happens can be based on the potential impact on: the organization’s reputation, its finances, its people, its facilities, etc.
Organizations like the military or NASA have detailed contingency plans and preventive strategies – they need them. But some organizations will be comfortable with less planning and more ad hoc issue management.
Wherever an organization might be on the spectrum, the key is the scan gives the organization a better appreciation for the kinds of things that could happen and it forces them to think about what they might do in reaction.
Of course, every crisis or issue has its own nuances. That’s one of the reasons why I am not a big fan of having fully developed plans. I am a proponent of: understanding the value set that will drive decision making in a crisis; identifying the key decision makers and their back-ups; and having the organizational ability to be able to reach both decision-makers and stakeholders during a crisis through a variety of media.
Even those three things can make the communicator’s role as a “first responder” easier with a better chance of success. Digging deeper into the scan and developing preventive measures that make key executives accountable can not only make an organization more crisis resilient, it can also improve operations and save resources.
So, can you plan for a crisis? Yes you can – the level of your planning will depend on your tolerance for risk and the implications of failure. But the first aid kit and the ability of the first responder to mitigate damage grows with every level of preparation. As the old adage goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.