When Marc Lasry, co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, announced yesterday he would resign as chairman of Ozy Media because of a crisis at the media company, he said, “I believe that going forward Ozy requires experience in areas like crisis management and investigations, where I do not have particular expertise.”
As I wrote in August, “Many of today’s corporate executives learned about crisis management at the School of Hard Knocks—and perhaps earned a graduate degree in Trial by Fire.” And while some of today’s business leaders may have taken a college or university class or two in crisis management or read books about it, much of what they learned or read may have been forgotten, blurred or became outdated.
Depending on the crisis and the nature and size of the company, corporate executives may simply not have the time, background, experience or expertise to manage the situation. And their boards of directors may prefer or require that their CEOs and other senior staff spend their time managing the company, and delegate dealing with the crisis to outside consultants and experts.
Don’t wait until there is a crisis to figure out how to respond or who would manage the situation. The crisis management best practice to have a plan in place and practice the plan to ensure it will work when needed.
The Benefits Of An Outsider
Daniel Cherrin leads North Coast Strategies, a crisis management firm. He observed that, “In [the] handling of any crisis, it is important to rise above the chaos to be able to see clearly the end in site and put together a strategy to get through the urgency to their path to restoring credibility.
“That often takes an outsider who is able to work across departments and one who understands the legal risks along with any potential damage to ones brand and reputation. In fact, it is better to have an outside person or firm to help manage the crisis. That person or firm is not connected to the person or company involved, they won’t be worried in disagreeing with the CEO and will be the best person to help lead a CEO out of a difficult situation. “
Don’t Do It Yourself
Nick Kalm is the founder and president of Reputation Partners, a national strategic communications firm specializing in crisis and issues management. He advised that, “A CEO should never try to handle a crisis on their own. While they are ultimately responsible for how the organization is judged in handling a crisis, the CEO role is often far too isolated and insulated a position to manage one effectively without key inputs.
‘One Of the Most Important Qualities’
“Recognizing this position is one of the most important qualities a CEO should have in dealing with a crisis. Those inputs can come purely from internal staff if they have experience with that specific crisis and are up to date on how other organizations responded to identical/similar crises and best practices. However, they need to feel fully empowered and encouraged (especially from the CEO) to speak freely and candidly to their boss about the crisis’ implications, while avoiding getting isolated themselves,” he said.
The Ideal Mix
Kalm said, “The ideal is a mix of internal staff (including key subject matter experts) and external consultants representing at least the communications and legal perspectives. In selecting a consultant, organizations would be well advised to have established relationships before a crisis hits, even if it’s just an ‘on call’ arrangement.
“That way, the consultants don’t have to try to quickly get up to speed on the company, leaders, culture, processes, history, etc. as a crisis is unfolding. It’s also important that the consultants have specific experience with the industry, the types of crises/issues likely to befall it, and the bandwidth to jump in and mobilize a team and technologies to address every relevant aspect of a crisis,” he recommended.
Advice For Business Leaders
While it may not be advisable or practical for corporate executives to jump into the trenches and manage a crisis themselves, they could certainly benefit by knowing some of the basics of crisis management and thereby have more confidence when working with outside crisis consultants. Those basics include:
- Understanding the theory and practice of issue management
- Staying current on the challenges facing those who are responsible for communicating about and managing crises
- Identifying possible threats that could create a crisis for companies and organizations
- Preparing and updating crisis communication and management plans
- Immersing yourself in real life crisis scenarios
- Practicing working as teams
- Collaborating with colleagues
- Having message strategies and honing messaging skills for different audiences and crisis situations
- Allocating and budgeting for the resources needed to respond to a crisis