Q: What can my business do to be prepared for a crisis?

A: While crisis is inevitable in today’s business world, leaders routinely fail to acknowledge business and reputational threats and neglect to have a crisis communication plan ready when needed.

The good news is writing a basic crisis plan is relatively easy, but building the workplace culture to support the plan can be more time-consuming. But if you value your business and its reputation, you will take the time to write a plan and keep the plan alive.

The first step is acknowledging the value of a plan and establishing your definition of a crisis. Ensuring everyone knows what constitutes a crisis and when the plan needs to be put into action is key. A business can’t manage a crisis it doesn’t see.

Next, leaders have to agree to a simple ground rule: Everyone is responsible for raising their hand when they see a crisis arise. This ground rule is both practical and cultural: practical because a business should work to manage a crisis quickly and cultural because encouraging everyone to protect the brand builds employee buy-in and awareness of their role in doing the right thing.

The plan must establish clear roles and responsibilities, defining the who, what, when and how of the plan. Good plans establish decisionmakers. Good plans set operating ground rules, spell out processes, and have standby statements pre-drafted for likely scenarios. And good plans work toward agreed-to outcomes that tell our key audiences where we are headed.

But just having a plan is not enough. The plan must “live” in an organization. This is where culture and commitment come in.

Plans need to be reviewed annually. The review should ensure the plan remains relevant and reflects current realities, looking at what is most likely to happen and have an impact. The revised plan should account for operational changes as well as changes to standby statements.

Finally, business must commit to annual drills to ensure everyone understands the plan, knows their role and can execute when needed. Minutes matter in a crisis, and ensuring your crisis is managed means you know your plan — and can use it to your advantage.


Paul Omodt is on faculty at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.