Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lessons in Crisis Management

It's easy to learn from hindsight. Many an individual has attained tremendous mental wealth from looking back. The big question is whether we learn from our past mistakes, not just gather stories of deeds unaccomplished.

Toyota's safety crisis has been the content of many a recent news item, ranging from tragedies to sensationalism to Congressional hearings. For those not directly affected by the issues at hand, there is still much to learn, especially in the realm of crisis management.

The business world will never be crisis free. However, in order to continue to thrive, managers must know how to best cope in a crisis situation. Failing to respond to the crisis at hand may prove to exacerbate an already difficult situation. There are several key steps that a company, and its management, should follow in a crisis.

The CEO must take immediate command of the situation. Even if the CEO is not a polished public speaker, the public must see that the top person is in charge and leading the company in its difficult time. Otherwise, it's a sinking ship with no captain at the helm.

As soon as possible, start the flow of information. Let the public know that the company has the situation under control and is doing its best. It's imperative to maintain credibility with the public. As difficult as it may be, a unified, hard-working front is crucial. Not having all the answers is legitimate. However, avoiding the situation is not.

Try to think several steps ahead. Experienced management should be able to anticipate what lies ahead in a situation. Be prepared, rather than be caught off-guard.

Don't make light of a serious situation. In a time of crisis, a company's place is to identify with the public. After a crisis has been resolved, the company will need to maintain its customer base. The public will remember if a company identified with them or only worried about itself. Loyalty is a two way street.

Thinking carefully about how and when to act is the key to successful crisis management.

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