8 Dangerous Assumptions That Will Make Any Crisis Worse
Commentary From Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Author Of The Award-Winning Book Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey)
Making assumptions about anything can be dangerous. That’s especially true when it comes to making assumptions about preventing or managing a crisis at companies and organizations.
To help get the new year off to a good start, review the following major assumptions about crisis management and crisis communications that can prolong or make a crisis worse. If you or your staff are guilty of believing any of these statements, take steps as soon as possible to ensure that you or they do not fall into these traps.
Assumptions And Reality Checks
No Crisis Today, No Crisis Tomorrow
“Because our company did not have a crisis today, it will not have one tomorrow.”
Reality Check: A crisis can happen anywhere, anytime, to any company and for any reason. The more unprepared you are to deal with a crisis, the worse it will be when, not if, it happens.
Example: Colonial Pipeline had never been hacked or forced to shut down its 5,000 miles of pipelines. That is, of course, until last May.
No Plan Needed
“We do not need a crisis management plan.”
Reality Check: Every organization, no matter how large or small or what industry or profession, needs a plan. Otherwise, they will waste valuable time when a crisis does strike trying to decide what to do, how to do it, when it do it, who will do it, where it do it and why to do it. And be sure to have different plans for different kinds of crisis situations.
Example: The organizers of Travis Scott’s concert in Houston last November had a crisis management plan. But it made no provisions for crowd surges — which created the deadly crisis.
No Updated Plans Required
“Our organization does not have to update its crisis management plans.”
Reality Check: Crisis plans should be reviewed at least on an annual basis and updated to ensure they reflect new possible crisis situations, changes in the industry and changes in the company’s activities, operations and staff.
Example: Business executives around the world had to scramble last March after a cargo ship blocked the Suez Canal for several days and created a supply chain crisis for their companies. None of the organizations had updated their crisis contingency plans to account for such a disruption to how and where they receive their goods, products and supplies.
Do It Yourself
“I can manage a crisis all by myself.”
Reality Check: Managing a crisis should not be left to amateurs. Unless you have received training and have managed a crisis before, do not assume you can manage one all by yourself. And even if you have crisis management experience, you will likely be too busy running your company or organization to devote the time needed to manage a corporate emergency, disaster or scandal.
Example: Ozy Media found that out the hard way this past October when it was hit by a crisis that forced it to shut down. When Marc Lasry, co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, announced he would resign as chairman of Ozy Media because of a crisis at the media company, he said, “I believe that going forward Ozy requires experience in areas like crisis management and investigations, where I do not have particular expertise.”
“We can take our time in responding to a crisis.”
Reality Check: Every second you delay in responding to a crisis can make the crisis worse or help prolong it. The sooner you deal with the crisis, the sooner you can put it behind you.
Example: Peloton waited for weeks before recalling one of its products that had caused several injuries and the death of a child.
“We do not need to practice responding to different crisis scenarios.”
Reality Check: Every crisis is different, and different types of crises can present their own challenges and difficulties. The more your crisis response teams practice responding to different scenarios, they better they will be prepared to respond to any situation.
Example: Andreas Grant is the founder of Networks Hardware. At least twice a year they practice their response to cyber attacks. He said, “This is superior to an in-person exercise because it places us in very real situations. Instead of just telling us to read the protocol on how to deal with a cyberattack, they make us experience a simulated attack. With this experience, it becomes much clearer on what to do if we get attacked for real.”
“The biggest lesson I have learned from doing these are that experience is everything when it comes to acting fast in a crisis,” he said. “Even if you theoretically know what to do you need the experience, otherwise your [response] will be slow and uncoordinated. This is especially true for groups of people who need to work together.”
“When we have a crisis, we can wait until we tell anyone about it.”
Reality Check: The failure to immediately disclose your crisis to stakeholders can lead to allegations that you are trying to cover something up, are afraid to tell the truth about the matter or are concerned about the consequences when people learn about the situation.
Example: Consumer credit reporting company Equifax waited for several weeks before announcing their computers had been hacked and cyberthieves had obtained confidential information for 143 million Americans.
No Outside Help
“Our company has all the resources, skills and expertise we will ever need to deal with any kind of crisis.”
Reality Check: No company can possibly have all the staff and other resources they would need to respond to every conceivable crisis situation. But they can identify the areas in which they could need help in a crisis and take steps immediately to make sure those resources will be available as soon as they are needed.
Example: U.S. Capitol Police needed immediate reinforcements to respond to the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Because of issues related to the chain of command, it took them several hours to receive the help they urgently requested.
Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant and author of the award-winning Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey). He is a Leadership Strategy Senior Contributor for Forbes.com where he covers crisis-related news, topics and issues. Read his recent articles at https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/?sh=3c1da3e568c5.