Friday, September 1, 2017

Answer Three Questions to Kick Off Your Crisis Management Efforts

I've come across many crisis management "check lists" throughout my career as a public relations practitioner and educator. While they offer useful guidance in a pinch, they typically fall short in terms of helping an organization to launching a comprehensive crisis management effort. 

Instead, I've observed that this effort benefits enormously from the outset when key crisis management participants agree on responses to three key questions.   

Question 1
What is a crisis? 

Crises are not simply problems; in fact, they negatively affect the normal flow of business in all kinds of organizations. Seeger, Sellnow, and Ulmer (2015) define crises as a "specific, unexpected, and non-routine event or series of events that create high levels of uncertainty and simultaneously present an organization with both opportunities for and threats to its high priority goals." (p. 8). Coombs (2015) considers crises as perceptual, highlighting the point that defining what is or is not a crisis—not to mention if and how to respond—often results from the perceptions of stakeholders as well as the organizations involved. 

Taking these two points together, organization representatives must reach consensus on what specific criteria make a situation a crisis. Short of such agreement, there's little likelihood of progress towards any kind of crisis management plan, much less specific crisis prevention, preparation, response, and recovery activities. 

Question 2
When does a situation, event, or issue become a crisis?

It's one thing for organizational representatives to agree on the meaning of crisis, and another to label a specific situation, event, or issue as a crisis. To this end, Coombs (2015) illuminates the challenges faced in organizations where a case must be made for the existence of a crisis in the face of resistance to their very existence. Efforts to influence the dominant coalition play a role here, which typically demand an immersion in organizational politics. In general, the greater the relevance, potential impact, and urgency of a specific situation, event, or issue, the more likely an organization's leadership will buy into designating it as a crisis and thus trigger the need to enact response strategies. 

Question 2
What are the stages of crisis management?

Crisis management models vary in complexity and relevance to different organizations. Fearn-Banks (2017), for example, posits five stages in crisis management: detection, prevention/preparation, containment, recovery, and learning. Alpaslan, Green, and Mitroff (2009) identify two: the preparation and response phases. 

In other words, crisis management models may provide more or less detail regarding different stages. This detail, the language used to describe each phase, and the very framing of the different stages themselves will vary in their appeal to different organizations. That's why it's critical that the crisis management model--the way an organization's leaders understand how crises develop and evolve--matches its unique culture and dynamics,

References
Alpaslan, C. M., Green, S. E., & Mitroff, I. I. (2009). Corporate governance in the context of crises: Towards a stakeholder theory of crisis management. Journal of contingencies and crisis management17(1), 38-49.

Coombs, W. Timothy (2015). Ongoing crisis communication (4rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Fearn-Banks, K. (2017). Crisis communications: A Casebook approach (5th ed.). New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.   

Ulmer, R. R., Sellnow, T. L., & Seeger, M. W. (2013). Effective crisis communication: Moving from crisis to opportunity. Sage Publications. 






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