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Avoiding surprises: plan for issues, plan for solutions

Most of us enjoy surprises. Free tickets to an event we’ve been wanting to go to, the last-minute cancellation of an event we didn’t want to go to, an unexpected windfall, a thoughtful gift.

However, when your organisation’s reputation is on the line, surprises can be a little less welcome. An unexpected issue has the potential to seriously damage or destroy your reputation when not managed correctly, so it pays to take the time to be prepared.

Earlier this year, United Airlines gave us a memorable example of how quickly a negative issue can escalate when they chose to manage an overbooking situation by dragging a paying customer off a flight, bloodying his face in the process. The issue became world-wide news in a heartbeat as people shared footage of the terrified man screaming and other passengers rushing to his defence.

It was a textbook case of ‘what not to do’, and a timely reminder to organisations everywhere to re-examine their crisis communication plans and start identifying issues before they become crises.

Define your issues

In order to create an effective crisis plan, and to be ready for threats to your organisation’s reputation, you need to understand the issues that your business may face.

This goes beyond a general understanding of reputational risks and opportunities. You need to identify specific risk points for your business. Ask yourself what the biggest threats to your business and reputation are. Where do they originate? How could a problem grow from these risk points?

According to a report from PwC, who polled 164 global CEOs, 15 per cent of CEOs have experienced five or more crises in the last three years, and 30 per cent expect more than one crisis in the next three years.

With risks at levels like this, it’s important that businesses understand the issues that could lead to a crisis. Creating a register of potential issues is the first step in making your business crisis-ready.

Define your solutions

Once you have a handle on the specific risks that your business faces, it’s time to prepare action plans for dealing with those risks.

Who is going to respond to the crisis? What is the message going to be? How are you going to connect your operations and your communication so that the public is informed and your reputation, protected?

Businesses face unique challenges, so they need to prepare unique solutions. By planning for specific issues, you can have processes in place to manage a crisis, protect your reputation and get back to business-as-usual as quickly as possible.

Expect the unexpected

With a register of potential issues and a corresponding register of action plans, you are well on your way to a comprehensive crisis plan. However, businesses still face threats from ‘unknown unknowns’. The final ingredient in a robust crisis plan is a strong response plan for an unanticipated issue.

Building the structures for real time reporting of issues, information gathering, operational processes and a clear communication framework will ensure that you can bounce back quickly from a surprise issue.

These structures can mirror the ones you have identified through the process of defining issues and solution, however, you need to make sure that you have the flexibility to act swiftly and decisively and manage the issues that arise.

By defining your issues, arming yourself with solutions and readying yourself for uncertainty, you can ensure that your business is ready to meet any crisis head on.