Crisis Management in 2021 – Are You Ready for the New Reality?

Erik Bernstein crisis management

Looking at the many issues impacting crisis management in the new year


[Keep an eye out for the link to our new (and free!) preparedness survey – 10 Questions To Ask Yourself About Crisis Management in 2021 – at the end of this blog post from international crisis management expert Tim Scerba.]

The challenges wrought by this past year have irrevocably changed how organizations need to view crisis prevention and management.  The communications methodologies and tools they previously used to successfully anticipate, contain, manage and recuperate from a sensitive situation or crisis may no longer work.  But what is taking or will take their place?  How can organizations adapt and be prepared for what is being called the “new normal”?  Let’s talk a look at how we at Bernstein Crisis Management see crisis communications is changing and offer some suggestions for organizations to help their crisis programs better adapt to an ever-changing landscape.

The first thing we need to accept is that what people are calling the “new normal” is here to stay. In fact, much of what we used to consider “normal” has been relegated to the “how we used to do business” bucket.  The world has literally been turned upside down and because of this, communicating is no longer an option or luxury for any company or organization, whether private, public or nonprofit.  Stakeholders and interested audiences want, need and demand more information, interaction and communication during turbulent times, whether you are in the middle of a crisis or not.

The new reality is characterized not only by uncertainty, but also:

  • Decentralized communications taking the place of centralize, hub-and-spoke communication
  • Minimal or restricted access to resources, transportation, mobility and on-the-ground data
  • More channels, greater message dilution, less control of organizational messages
  • Increased distractions, conflicting priorities
  • Disinformation and “Fake News”
  • Stakeholders wearing multiple hats at the same time
  • People primed to believe the worst (if they believe anything at all)

So, where to even start with adapting your crisis prevention and management to better align the challenges all organizations are facing?  From our point-of-view, the best place is “at home” since your employees, as one of the most trusted of all sources, can, now more than ever, make or break you during a crisis.  They can – and do – impact your brand, reputation, operations and culture.

The latter is especially important given work-from-home models have a direct effect on team cohesion, communications, culture and loyalty. It also makes it far more challenging to tap into employees as an effective and on-call communications channel to help get your crisis messaging out quickly to both internal and external audiences.  You need to effectively address their needs for transparency, partnership, tolerance and flexibility while giving them more “skin in the game.”

Given that most companies and organizations will not be returning to an office as we used to know it – and many, in fact, will move to a hybrid office-with-work-from-home model, you need to be ready to have virtual war rooms to direct and manage your organization’s crisis response.  These will not replace the physical war room that you are accustomed to but will complement it and allow for greater flexibility reduced response time. The virtual war will require an up leveling of technology and additional team training, but for most companies, these should be quite manageable.

Given the pandemic and current political and economic situations around the world, most organizations will find themselves having to manage a crisis within a crisis (or multiple crisis).  We recently talked about this situation in an earlier blog and, from our experience, having to manage and recover from nested crises is more and more the norm rather than the exception.  While tempting to try to use one crisis as a “shield” for another, the reality is that nested crises increase and make more urgent the need to adequately respond to all the crises.  Taking any other action can generate additional – and unwanted – speculation about your company’s crises and their causes.

We also believe that crisis management elements such as Crisis Inoculation, digital and cloud-based crisis protocols and materials, virtual training and crisis plan pressure testing, and enhanced interactive crisis monitoring and early warning systems will become standard rather being seen as “nice to have.”

The question then becomes, “are you and your organization ready for this new reality?”  To help you do a self-diagnosis of your readiness level, we have a developed a downloadable list of ten questions you should ask yourself to determine whether you can confidently face crisis management in 2021 and beyond.  Just click here for your complimentary download.

The Bernstein Crisis Management Team