Don’t let a good crisis go to waste

There is no doubt that a crisis can bring reputational damage and clear costs to an organisation. But it can also bring benefits if the time can be taken to recognise them.

The glare of the media and political spotlights often cause widespread panic. Sometimes this is well placed and organisations can do little more than fight day-to-day to fend off the problem. Normal operations are interrupted and the senior team can do little outside of dealing with the immediate crisis.

However, benefits can emerge from a crisis but it takes a degree of detachment and reflection to recognise them. This is easier said than done but a period of quiet reflection in the aftermath, and some excellent note taking, can prove useful.

  • Not all crises comes as a surprise – a crisis can often be identified in advance and preferably dealt with. It could be related to an issue or an individual that had been widely recognised previously as a potential problem but the ability, or inclination, to deal with it can sometimes be lacking. The focus provided by outside interest means that action has to be taken. If it is ignored then the damage will be ever greater next time anyone shows any interest. The crisis provides the impetus and ability to take action.
  • The generation of ideas – new ideas about how things are done often come up during a crisis. It is such a shock for most organisations that any ‘business-as-usual’ type approach goes straight out of the window. Instead, people want to contribute, get involved and solve the issue. The crisis itself might be the right time to do anything with the ideas but they should not be lost or ignored.
  • Bring in outside help – in a similar way, outside help is often needed during a crisis and this can help bring fresh insight and a different perspective. Under normal operations, some organisations prefer to keep everything in-house but a crisis can call for more specialist help. If the opportunity exists to draw on this outside help more broadly, even if only for a short period of time, then it can help refresh, bring in new ideas and consider challenges in a different way.
  • Make changes – changes have to be made after a crisis but solutions need to be based on insight and a determination to really make change. Anything more superficial will simply fail. The promise of an ‘independent review’ may be seen by some as a superficial attempt to deflect the media but they bring a real benefit.  Such reviews are often conducted by outside bodies and experts in the field not just because they are independent but because they can bring a fresh perspective and do not carry potential in-built biases or concerns about existing relationships. This brings with it the confidence needed by senior teams to make changes.
  • Engage the team – whilst a crisis needs to be publically led from the top, the power of the response often relies on a wider team knowing and understanding what is happening and how they can play a positive role. There is nothing worse than a crisis only being communicated through the media. Employees need to know what to say and do, and what their role is. They are a valuable asset and should be treated as one.  So if that isn’t recognised already then a crisis can help break down such barriers and provide the support that might otherwise be lacking.
  • The ability to thank your team – a crisis will normally see a team pull together and, if what I have outlined is any way true, they will be your champions, advocates, and generators of ideas for the future. The aftermath of a crisis provides a great opportunity to say ‘thank you’ and not all organisations do this enough.
None of this deflects from the potential impacts of a crisis but it does point to some degree of hope that a crisis need not be terminal. Instead, handled well, a crisis can open up horizons.

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Stuart is a public affairs and communications specialist with BDB Pitmans advising clients on all elements of their public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management. His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has advised on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes. Stuart is an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and is the author of several books including ‘New Activism and the Corporate Response‘ (heralded as a book that “every aspiring business leader should read” by MIS Asia), ‘Public Affairs in Practice’ and ‘The Dictionary of Labour Quotations‘. His most recently published book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ has been called ‘an absolute treasure-trove’ and is a recommended read by the Government Communication Service (GCS). Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues and as well as blogging for BDB Pitmans he contributes to the Huffington Post and has written for the CBI, (former) UKTI, Total Politics and LabourList. He is also an adviser to the Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) and a regular speaker and chair at conferences. He has appeared on Sky News, BBC 5 Live, BBC World, the Today programme and on Ukrainian TV and has been a judge for the Public Affairs News, PR Week, Public Affairs and the European Public Affairs awards. Stuart is a CIPR trainer leading the 'Practical Public Affairs' course.

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