How much pain does it take before you care about crisis prevention?

There is a psychological concept that 12-step programs introduced called “hitting bottom.” It refers to the point at which an individual feels so much pain from what he or she has been doing that the fear of continuing “as is” is greater than the fear of change. At that point, the individual is willing to take some direction from someone other than him- or herself.

It has been my experience that organizations, too, usually have to “hit bottom,” to feel enough crisis-related pain from their actions, or lack thereof, that they’re willing to realize that their own best thinking isn’t making them crisis-resistant, versus crisis-prone. And that’s when they start getting proactive about crisis management.

How much pain does it take? That’s the question posed by Jonathan Bernstein with the latest update to his classic article, in which he discusses a dangerous, and often-unmentioned, fact – that far too many organizations are aware of potential problems and fail to take proper crisis prevention measures until they encounter events that cause lasting pain for themselves and others.

Yes, there’s an upfront cost to prevention and preparedness. Yes, once in a while things may hurt more in the short term as you flush bad actors from your organization or reveal issues that are being corrected. Fact is that every year human lives are put at risk, and organizations incur the cost of tens of thousands of hours of lost productivity, millions in legal expenses, and reputations so damaged they may very well never recover. All of this because of a refusal to engage in crisis prevention, including knowing their weaknesses, preparing for predictable issues, and actually following through when presented with clear evidence showing it’s time for action.

While it’s possible to recover from almost any crisis situation, the real question is will you have the resources left after you’ve faced enough pain? We can tell you from first-hand experience that clients who chose to build pandemic plans before COVID-19 hit hard are, while undeniably cautious and concerned, not facing the same level of issues those that waited to be forced into closing or otherwise modifying operations by federal mandates. Stats support this as well, with 94% of survey respondents stating having a crisis management plan did save them money, on average at least a third of the total cost of the crisis. Add to this figures like stakeholders and the media having twice as much trust mid-crisis in companies who had a plan, and the finding that news of negative incidents spreads to 2x as many people as positive ones, and you begin to see just how much allowing your organization to encounter painful incidents can cost.

Interested in preventing pain for your own company? Learn from the plentiful examples of others, and from 30+ years of hands-on crisis management consulting experience, in Jonathan Bernstein’s full article, “How Much Pain Does It Take?”

Erik Bernstein