By Dr. Rosalie Lopez, JD, DM
Often times, human resources departments are called upon to spring into action when an organization’s life cycle is disrupted. While many human resources practitioners handle daily crises, most are not experienced with actually mapping out a crisis management plan. Crisis management is not simple, to say the least-note the juxtaposition and irony of this article’s title to the actual daunting task of handling a company crisis-it is not simple. This article is intended for those human resources practitioners that are tasked with putting together a crisis management plan for the first time or are relatively inexperienced at charting them. Starting with a simplified plan to get the wheels rolling on what to do will help any HR practitioner de-escalate the overwhelming feeling of whether or not they are going about designing a plan the right way.
As a human resources practitioner, it is important to be a strategic partner in the organization with strict focus on the company’s mission and values statements always at the root of HR’s work. A company’s business life cycle disruption will involve company personnel, but the scope has far-reaching effects that almost always reach the public. A crisis management plan is a deliberately planned course of action that will necessarily have to be taken should an unforeseen and extremely problematic matter arise. Typically, three major things occur: 1) there is a business disruption that places the company in a seriously precarious position; 2) time is of the essence in handling the matter and; 3) a plan of action must be instituted to abate or minimize damage to the company and its brand. Always, thereafter, there is an analysis and debriefing of how the events unfolded and the actions taken to assess the success of the crisis management plan.
As in any risk management situation, preparedness is key. A crisis management plan is a risk management plan. Here is a basic template that will facilitate getting started. Fleshing out the details will take some time but the template will help lay out the skeletal plan.
Anticipatory Considerations: Think about any situations that have the potential to arise and create upheaval to the company, its culture, and brand. This requires a bit of a dooms-day vision, which while sounding askew, is actually an appreciated skill in risk management and lawyering. Planning to deal with worst-outcome scenarios is vital to managing them. As the HR practitioner in charge, for example, what would be the steps to take if the company president suddenly had a heart attack and no succession plan was in place? What would be done if a union organizing campaign started in the company parking lot? What would be done if a senior-level manager had sexually harassed a subordinate and the victim went public?
Crisis Management Team: Assemble a team of essential personnel and experts both in and outside of the company that have the ability to work through the chosen issue(s) of the crisis management plan (NTA, 2003). The makeup of the team will vary depending on the crisis. The team develops the plan to be followed and members are in charge of executing the plan. Only individuals with a critical function in relation to the event should be on this team.
Company Stance: Keep a laser-sharp focus on the company’s mission and values statements and all underlying policies and procedures. Consider any laws that could be implicated. What is the unwavering company stance on the matter?
Map It: Nail down action steps from the beginning to the end. Here, details count for everything. A business continuity strategy should be clear and well-articulated (Smith, 2003). Create a checklist. Ensure there are no gaps or overlapping steps or duties. Rehearse the scenario often and continually update the plan due to any type of important change or modification.
Execution: If the crisis occurs, execute the plan and monitor each step from the map as it unfolds. Stay the course unless some major diversion requires a change of action. Otherwise, stick to the plan.
Post-Event Analysis: When the crisis has been abated, diverted, neutralized, or minimized review what happened. Debrief as necessary and required, especially to all stakeholders. Prepare appropriate reports for review and follow-up, including investigating the circumstances and people involved-all towards an eye for closure on the issue(s). Assess and measure the outcome. Use focus groups to shed light on where things could have gone better or where possibly there is litigation exposure.
Dealing With the Media & the Public: Confident in the company stance and actions, be as transparent as possible. Avoiding the media with delayed responses, twisted story lines, or “no comment” only invites speculation and in-depth scrutiny (NTA, 2003). Policy statements should be prepared in advance as part of the crisis management plan even though they might be subject to change as things unfold. Maintain the “one-person, one-message” rule so that a credible person speaks on behalf of the company (NTA, 2003).
Crisis preparedness is smart. The idea should be to salvage the company’s reputation, while minimizing business continuity disruption (Smith, 2003). Being a proactive strategic partner makes the role of a human resources practitioner even more valuable and important during a company crisis. The simplified crisis management plan is a tool to help organize the HR practitioner’s critical thinking process on putting one together.
NTA. (2003, January). A guide to developing crisis management plans. NTA’s Market Development Council.
Smith, D. (2003, January). Business continuity and crisis management. Management Quarterly.
Dr. Rosalie Lopez, M.B.A., J.D., D.M. (Organizational Leadership) is an attorney and president of The Savvy Latina, a consulting practice for Strategic Planning and Career Strategies for Individuals, Small Business, and Corporations. Learn to deal clearly, rationally, and creatively with a diverse workforce. Coaching in this area is designed to teach you the effectiveness of critical thinking and decision making that will enhance your career opportunities with the ability to identify and solve organizational issues. Focus is on career direction and strategies to achieve success in the national and global business worlds. For those starting out, a business plan can be designed specifically for your company. Need a mentor? For more information, visit http://www.TheSavvyLatina.com.