Identify Your Company’s Vulnerabilities to Prevent and Prepare for a Crisis

by Jennifer Lefkowitz

As people, we all have vulnerabilities and flaws. We may not like to admit them and in some cases, we may not even know they exist. But, learning to identify, acknowledge and cope with our flaws can lead to healthy acceptance and opportunities to course correct. The truth is, bad things happen to good people. But knowing how to handle adversity, being prepared and having a solid support system, improves our ability to handle difficult and unexpected life situations.

The same can be said for vulnerabilities and flaws within your organization. Whether you admit to, or are even aware of them, they exist. It’s imperative to identify your company’s Achilles’ heel to help thwart, or better prepare your company for a potential crisis situation. Why? A crisis can dismantle your reputation in a matter of minutes, especially in today’s technology savvy world where all it takes is a bad review, a live feed, 140 characters or the snap of a picture to challenge your company’s actions and reputation.

Crises come in all shapes and sizes: from acts of terrorism, fatalities, abuse and food poisoning, to severe weather, cyber attacks or bad customer service. If a crisis is handled incorrectly, it could damage your reputation, result in lost revenue, alienate key stakeholders or potentially be the end of your business.

Here’s the good news. When your organization is well equipped to handle a crisis, and does so in a manner that restores trust and credibility, the crisis can actually demonstrate your company’s strength and commitment to success.

Before you dive into a crisis communication plan, it’s vital to take a step back and identify what could potentially go wrong. Just like personal self-reflection, identifying your company’s areas of weakness with a vulnerability assessment will equip you with the strategies, tools and support system to weather the storm.

Save the sugar coating for baked goods
This is no time to cater to the egos of senior management with a myopic view of the company. A vulnerability assessment should provide a raw and truthful look at what could go wrong. Therefore, it’s ideal to invite a third party to conduct interviews, the results of which should remain anonymous so interviewees feel comfortable speaking openly without fear of repercussions.

Listen to every voice
When deciding whom to interview, include all levels, not just senior managers or the C-suite. Field reps, administrative assistants, line workers, board members and donors will all provide different perspectives based on their vantage point. By casting a wide net, you are likely to catch potential crisis starters of all shapes and sizes, and possibly even identify issues you didn’t know were there.

Remain calm and carry on
If your list of vulnerabilities has you breathing into a paper bag… fear not. You should actually be proud. You’ve taken the first step to prepare your company for handling these challenging situations. Perhaps during the assessment you identified a flaw that was one tweet away from kicking off a crisis situation. For those easily remedied situations, pat yourself on the back for detecting and correcting them early. For everything else, you’ll need to prioritize, quantify and categorize the vulnerabilities, and then develop a thorough crisis communications plan should any of these situations occur.

Get with the plan
You’ll want to develop a plan because preparation is the key to surviving a crisis. The saying “don’t get caught with your pants down,” (which coincidentally has led to many crisis situations on its own) is also a reminder to not get caught unprepared. Plans will vary for every business or organization, but should ultimately provide an overall strategy for how to navigate various crisis scenarios and identify a core crisis communications team complete with roles and responsibilities.

Craft your key messages
Each crisis scenario should have template key messages for all stakeholders groups (e.g., customers, vendors, board members, stockholders, etc.) that can be easily and quickly customized. Establish protocols in advance that can be deployed seamlessly when a situation occurs. Ask yourself: who will field all media requests? Who will speak to the media? Who will monitor and respond to social media? Who will relay pertinent information from law enforcement or government entities? These questions and more will differ from business to business, but whether you’re a relatively new start up or a well-established company don’t fool yourself by thinking you’ll figure it out if it happens to you.

A crisis communications plan is not the be-all and end-all of what to do; instead it’s a roadmap to guide the crisis communications team after they’ve identified all the facts and determined an appropriate course of action based on their best judgment.

If you need help, you can always enlist an expert that specializes in crisis communications to better prepare your company for or to mitigate a current crisis situation. Just as it’s beneficial to have a third party conduct the vulnerability interviews, it is also helpful to have a partner that can provide strategic counsel during stressful situations.

Whether you reach out to an expert or develop your crisis plan internally, the important part is that you’re taking the first step toward protecting your hard-earned brand equity and the future of your company.

Want to learn more? Join us Tuesday, April 18 for our crisis communication workshop, “Crisis Averted: Protecting your Brand Equity in a Digital Age”, where you’ll learn how to identify your company’s vulnerabilities and protect your company in the event of a crisis.