Crisis Management Quotables…on the Ones You Don’t See Coming

Erik Bernstein crisis management

Crisis Management Quotables…on the Ones You Don’t See Coming

“The crisis you have to worry about most is the one you don’t see coming.”

—  Mike Mansfield, Former Senate Majority Leader and diplomat

The Unpredictable Nature of Crises

This quote from Mike Mansfield, American diplomat and Senate Majority leader from 1961-1977, highlights a vital truth in crisis management: the most daunting crisis is the one you never see coming. While today’s heavy use of monitoring and media tracking software, in additional to a generally vocal public, means you’ll see warning signs of many issues that could arise to the level of crisis well in advance, you have to accept trouble can and will crash into your reality with a sudden ferocity, completely lacking the good manners to let you know it was coming beforehand. A random fire, sparked by an electrical issue next door. A staff member plugging a USB stick loaded with malware into a company device. A global pandemic appearing on your doorstep to say, “…about those plans you had for the next few years.” Don’t tell me it can’t happen to you.

Plus Up Your Planning

These days it’s standard crisis management best practice to focus planning on known categories of risk, along with those that can be predicted as likely to occur. It’s also fairly well known that plans are intended to provide a framework for response to issues whether they were on the list of the anticipated or not. What you see less discussion of, and maybe it’s strange to tell you this as someone who sells crisis management planning services themselves, is that simply having a plan gathering dust on a shelf or spinning around as lonely zeros and ones in the company cloud somewhere isn’t enough.

Part of the irony of the universe is that you can plan for 100 different scenarios and number 101 will be the first to rear its head and say hello. While crisis management plans are a must for reducing the damage taken from tough situations, they can’t properly support those that fall outside the realm of regular predictions and preparations without a more dynamic and holistic approach to crisis management.

Flexible, Agile, and Outside-the-Box

Crisis management cannot exist in a vacuum. Ok, it can but it’s not going to do you much good there. When a sudden, unexpected, and unheralded crisis creates a smoking crater in your work day, you need full buy in from a prepared organization to clear out the mess and get back to business as usual. If your brand’s well-prepared you’re probably taking some of the steps listed below, but I’d bet good money very few are investing in every one of these five areas that increase your ability to respond to situations requiring significant flexibility, agility, and outside-the-box solutions.

  1. Proactive Monitoring: Regularly scanning the environment for potential threats is essential. This involves not just looking at known risks but also exploring emerging trends and patterns that could evolve into future crises.
  2. Cultivating a Culture of Agility: Organizations must foster a culture where adaptability and flexibility are ingrained. This means being ready to pivot strategies, reassign resources, and alter plans quickly in response to unexpected challenges.
  3. Diverse Perspectives: Encouraging diverse viewpoints and cross-functional collaboration can provide a broader perspective on potential risks, leading to the identification of blind spots in crisis planning.
  4. Regular Training and Simulations: Regularly engaging in crisis simulations that include a variety of scenarios, even those that seem unlikely, can prepare teams for the unexpected. It’s about training for not just the known, but also to handle the unknown.
  5. Conscious Communication: Open lines of communication within the organization and with external stakeholders are crucial. This ensures you know what key audiences expect from you, and enables quick dissemination of information and coordinated response strategies during a crisis.

Preparing for The Unseen

While it is quite literally impossible to predict every crisis that could possibly occur, preparing for the unpredictable is something any organization can do…if they care enough. It involves going beyond traditional risk assessments and embracing a mindset of flexibility and vigilance. It involves taking crisis management beyond the plan, and making it an integral part of daily operations. It does, I admit, also involve extra work, and the costs associated with that. To those who balk at that last sentence, I have a challenge for you — find a colleague, find a coworker, find anyone you trust who’s gone through a true, full-blown crisis without prior preparedness. Don’t take my word for it, ask! If they don’t tell you they wish they had been better prepared, that they felt the organization they were with would have saved money, time, and reputation by engaging in crisis management in advance, email me and I’ll correct this post immediately. Frankly I don’t think I’m at risk of needing to do that.

Erik Bernstein