10 golden rules of crisis management

I grew up in the times when the biggest crisis we could ever imagine back then was a Cold War.

We survived the Cold war, and when we entered the last decade of the 20th century, many of us thought that the biggest crisis of our life was over….

No One Is Immune To a Crisis

Image credit @ Agne Nainyte

Recent world events have shown that a crisis could happen anytime and affect anyone, and often we have no way of knowing when it is coming.

There are many definitions of a crisis. Pick the one that speaks to you:

‘A time of intense difficulty or danger.’

‘A moment of change.’

A condition of instability or danger, leading to a decisive change.

A time when a difficult or important decision must be made.

But you definitely will know it is a crisis as soon as you are in it. Be it a job loss, pandemic, cyberattack, organizational restructuring, financial crisis, a natural disaster, etc. – at the very minimum, there always will be a moment of instability, surprise, difficulty, danger, and a decisive change.

And then, often in crisis, there will be a moment that will shake your existence, the environment you are in, a moment that will break the status quo and force you to change and make choices.

Change is the only constant 

Adjusting to change, accepting it in the moment of a crisis does not come easy.

Human beings are biologically hardwired to play it safe. We hate risks; we want to see what we want to see.

We resist the pain of change and the fear of the unknown.

Any change will include disruption and require resilience. It is a fact.

And it is also a fact that change is inevitable, and it is the only constant in life.

Humankind has lived through a lot. We faced the challenges; we adapted, survived, and thrived. And we will do so again.

Any crisis will bring learnings and experiences. Any crisis will also create opportunity and change.  The change could be both positive and negative, depends on how you look at it. But the most important thing is to embrace that change in a moment of a crisis, decide what to do with it, focus on what is in our control and carve an opportunity.

We don’t get to choose a crisis

Over the years, I've learned that many crises have the same patterns or DNA. There is one fundamental and universal thing of all crises: we don't get to choose a crisis, but we get to decide HOW to respond to it. Meaning: we choose and control what happens next, what we do about it, how we set our mind, and what choices we make.

In today’s world, when a crisis happens – there is no time to waste.  We don’t have the luxury to take hours and days to respond to a crisis. We better be ready and prepared, have a crisis management plan, have a set of tools and procedures, find the right solutions, and mitigate any potential damage to ourselves or our business.

We are all flawed human beings. We make mistakes.

Being prepared, having a crisis management plan will certainly minimize the risk of making too many mistakes, or any at all.

What do you do when a crisis knocks on your door?

2020 reminded us of life’s realities. And what started as a local health incident became the global health crisis which is likely to continue to be the source of many crisis situations for months and maybe years.

Today, no organization is exempt from any type of crisis. Total prevention is impossible.

What do you do when a crisis knocks on your door? Are you prepared?

What do you say to journalists and media when they put you or your company on the spot?

What do you say to your customers when you cannot operate your business system, sell or take orders?

Are you and your employees prepared?

People fail to recognize a sheer number of things that can go wrong when a crisis hits: impact on your employees, customers, partners, your business continuity, your reputation.

Do it wrong, and you will be dealing with damage control, lost credibility and reputation for a very long time.

There is a well-known phenomenon:  a crisis unveils all our vulnerabilities and strengths. The way we manage a crisis reveals our real personalities and leadership.

Considering the crisis we are living today, we can either pretend that we have nothing to learn or take this as an opportunity and invest further in our ability to learn, plan, and be ready to handle any crisis that might come up in the future.

My 10 golden rules OF crisis management:

1. Accept a crisis

If a crisis is at your doorstep: stop whatever you are doing. Accept a crisis, do not deny it. Respond fast. Give it your full attention.

2. Don’t be a hostage to your emotions

Whether we experience a personal or a business crisis, emotions will play a significant role and will be a big part of managing any crisis. Process your feelings, recognize and accept your emotions. It will help you to move forward and make conscious decisions to shift and focus on the opportunities.

3. Plan ahead

Think of many possible scenarios of how a crisis can evolve. Imagine what can go right and what can go wrong.

4. Stick to the facts

Collect and check all the facts. While addressing your issues, do not speculate or lie; always stick to the facts.

5. Don’t’ manage a crisis on your own.

A strong feeling of community, cooperation allows people to connect, commit, and support each other, especially in tough times. Reach out to your colleagues, friends, family, advisors. Know who are your key stakeholders in a process. Talk to them.

6. Be transparent, take accountability

When you are in a crisis, do not cover it up, do not make up for your mistakes, face it. Otherwise, you are at risk of damaging your reputation and losing public trust.  If you don’t have an answer to a question, be honest and say so. Not knowing everything is human, admitting it will earn you more respect.

7. What, How, When you say it – matters

Every message you are putting out there has the potential to change the course of events in your business or private life while also impacting another human being. In a format of a crisis, one reckless message, especially when timed poorly, can kill your best efforts in mitigating the situation and can also damage your reputation for a very long time.

8. Don’t criticize authorities, media, competitors, partners

Leave the art of criticism to someone else. There are always ways to express your disappointment and frustration without laying blame.  

9. Show humility and empathy, say ‘sorry’ if needed

We all seek to be understood. We are hardwired to empathize. Tell your community, partners, colleagues, employees you understand their challenges. Say ‘sorry’ if needed, create a bond.

10. Continuously reassess the crisis

Act quickly and reserve the right to reassess and modify your decision and choices in the process.

Crisis: it will happen again

We know that eventually, every crisis comes to an end. The next day, things may go back to normal. We breathe out; our heart rate goes down; we probably start sleeping again. We hope and wish that we never experience such a crisis again.

But it will happen again: the future is unpredictable, and no one is immune to a crisis.

Prevent the moment of damage control, protect your business from hard financial losses, save your brand and reputation: invest in a crisis response plan; train your teams; get hands-on experience.

In the end: the main difference in crisis management is between those who are prepared and ready to deal with it and those who are not.

Which one are you? Which one would you like to be?

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