Leading Crisis Management – Proactive planning makes all the difference

Closer to home, we are all bearing witness to the BBS saga. Only time will tell whether the response contains the fallout or not.

Leading Crisis Management – Proactive planning makes all the difference
Botswana Building Society (BBS) share holders elected new board members during the annual general meeting held in Gaborone on 30 April 2021. Pius Molefe (L) and attorney Kabelo Nkwe (R) interacting outside the venue during the AGM. (Pic:PRESS PHOTO)

Simply put, in the business landscape, a crisis is any unexpected incident or event that might disrupt a business’s operations or threaten its reputation. And none is more riveting than when it involves a corporate scandal.

Most of us are curious about the inner workings of different organisations, and anything that peels back the layers and exposes what happens in boardrooms and offices garners our undivided attention. Social media has expedited the speed at which information, accurate or otherwise, reaches a captive audience. While crises are unavoidable, there is much that businesses can do to prepare for and respond to them. Herein lies the art and science of crisis management.

Crisis management is the process by which businesses anticipate threats and lead the restoration of trust among their stakeholders when hit by a crisis. Stakeholders include staff, customers, suppliers, regulators, the media and industry influencers. Examples abound in every industry. Who can forget the oil spill that BP suffered a few years ago? Or the cyber crime fraud of 2016 on Standard Bank perpetrated in Japan and with varying financial impacts reported, the highest being R300 million?

Both organisations’ success in recovering is testament to both their planning and responsiveness to the crises. Closer to home, we are all bearing witness to the BBS saga. Only time will tell whether the response contains the fallout or not.

Reducing anxiety and restoring trust is ultimately the holy grail of any crisis management plan. It relies on having effective and timely communication, which is agile and relevant in nature. Central to this is having a pre-determined communication framework, which is very clear on what should be communicated, when and by who. This in essence then means crisis management as a discipline involves extensive pre-planning in anticipation of disruptive and unexpected events that can occur at any time.

The greatest threat to any business when it comes to crisis management is complacency, a belief that either it won’t happen to you or that should it happen, you are well equipped to handle and manage it.

The first step in putting together the communication framework is identifying the crisis management team made up of diverse members of the organisation, and where necessary, external experts. The team’s most critical role is to conduct a reputation risk assessment of the business, with an eye to identifying vulnerabilities that need to be planned for. The next step is categorising the risks according to severity of impact, with each having defined stakeholders that would need to be engaged should the risks materialise. Finally, a response plan needs to be developed and approved. The plan includes who prepares, reviews and approves what messaging needs to be put out in response to the crisis. A key part is that roles and responsibilities are understood, as well as preparation of communication templates – what many would term communication playbooks.

Communication playbooks in essence reduce any delays in leading the crisis as they include all communication that needs to go out as well as the recipients of said messaging. Having a plan on paper is one thing, being in the eye of the storm of a crisis is another. That is why it is a business imperative to actually test out the plan developed, which can be done with conducting simulation exercises with all the key players.

Simulation exercises are where you enact whatever crisis you deem disruptive and dedicating resources to leading it. Having partaken in various simulation exercises within the banking sector, I would recommend that every organisation conduct them, no matter how rudimentary.

Crisis management is never a complete exercise because new threats arise every day. The trick is to build your muscles and resilience as an organisation and become intuitive in both your anticipation and management of any crisis that may arise. It is ultimately less about achieving a perfect response but more about restoring and maintaining trust with all your stakeholders. The rule of thumb is plan for the worst but expect the best.

Obonye Malope is a Marketing and PR Expert at Eynobo Consulting