December 12, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Crisis Prevention Red Flags

Crisis Prevention Red Flags

In my opinion and experience, 95 percent of crises are preventable.

That’s right, when I’ve “reverse-engineered” crises that have occurred to my clients over the past 25+ years, crises about which I have sufficient information to reach truly educated conclusions, pre-crisis red flags were usually present – and ignored.

Over time, I’ve seen significant commonality in those red flags, so let me give you a quick list that you might be able to apply to other organizations with the goal of preventing crises.

  • Information choke points.  Too much critical information and/or decisions go through a single person or very small group of people.  When that flow gets heavy, the information clogs that choke point the same way the flow of too much material, too fast, can clog a drain – at which the backup starts increasing exponentially.  Some of that information may be critical to preventing a crisis – and it’s just sitting there, useless, at the choke point.

  • Irreplaceable people.  It’s good to have people so good that you consider them to be irreplaceable, right?  Well, not necessarily.  If a certain person – and it could be a very competent admin assistant as easily as it could be your CEO – is the only person who knows how to or is authorized to perform a certain task, what do you do when they aren’t available?  When they are out of town and unreachable?  When they have stepped in front the proverbial truck?  No one should be that irreplaceable; any of their functions that may be critical to crisis prevention or response need to be learned by one or more backups.

  • Human arrogance. I conducted a recent survey at LinkedIn regarding the primary cause of crises.  The top answer was “human arrogance.”  Followed closely by “playing ostrich/denial.”  The two are closely related and often take the form of “it can’t happen here” syndrome.  Which is not unlike realizing you’re about to go to hell and saying to yourself, over and over again, “It’s not hot and I’m not here.”

  • Lack of policies critical to crisis prevention.  Certain policies are more critical to crisis prevention that others, such as those regarding:

o    Information security.

o    Who speaks for the organization.

o    Email protocols on-site and off-site.

o    Safety

  • Lack of training to go along with policies.  Any policy without initial and refresher training is meaningless.  In the morass of policies employees at most organizations have to read from point of hire onwards, the ones they remember most are (a) the ones most important them personally, such as pay-related policies and (b) those that they are reminded about, over and over.

  • Omniscient decision-makers.  Some organizations have key decision-makers who, in practice, act as if they are omniscient.  They are highly capable in certain fields, and surround themselves with staff and/or consultants who are equally capable in their respective fields – but then they don’t listen to the latter.  Only to their own “inner God.”  With predictable results.

For organizations that want to prevent crises, there’s a process I’ve created called a “vulnerability audit,” about which you can read more here.  That process ferrets out these hidden flags, after which an organization can decide how to reduce or eliminate its specific vulnerabilities.

Sadly, some of the omniscient decision-makers, after paying for such work to be performed, decide they don’t need to do anything with the results.  They forget that there is no such thing as inaction and that they are–de facto–deciding to have future crises which could have been prevented.  

About the Author: Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international consultancy and author of “Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual.” Contact jonathan@bernsteincrisismanagement.com.

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