Planning for the Unplannable in 2017
Masullo: Recently, in an interview with Firestorm President Jim Satterfield, we wrapped up “The Year in Crisis.” Jim covered key areas for consideration in 2017
and we present this to you as Planning for the Unplannable in 2017.
As many of our regular readers know, Jim Satterfield is the President, COO and a Co-founder of Firestorm®.
Jim is also a nationally recognized expert, keynote speaker and author on crisis management, threat assessment, disaster preparedness and business continuity planning. He is a dynamic, humorous and compelling public speaker and receives exceptionally high praise from his audiences.
Jim also has experience as President, CEO and COO of various public and private companies in business continuity, communications, crisis management, environmental, insurance, reinsurance, risk management and technology, and has led in the development of national standards for risk management, environmental risk and environmental due diligence. He has spoken to hundreds of groups on risk management, crisis management, governance, disaster planning and preparedness.
Masullo: OK Jim, how do you plan for the unplannable?
Jim Satterfield: In most organizations, crisis impacts emanate from facilities, the workforce, information technology and brand and reputation disaster and crisis events.
In a crisis, the initial actions taken and the words said greatly influence the overall impact on the organization. Regardless of whether the event was planned for or not, most crisis decisions follow a common approach.
Every organization then, needs to:
- Establish a formal crisis management program structure in advance to evaluate threats and impacts;
- Create an intelligence network (includes analysis of traditional and new media) to monitor developing events;
- Establish and test a critical decision structure;
- Develop the appropriate crisis response strategies and crisis communications for known likely events that be leveraged in an unplanned crisis.
Masullo: What are the characteristics of those who respond poorly?
Jim Satterfield: Immaturity. Everything is a surprise.
Leadership is over confident. The leadership feels that they are smarter than everyone else.
Leadership believes that they can handle all exposures on the fly, they have no controls in place, support resources are not identified in advance, they lack an intelligence network and are continuously surprised by events.
Boards then interfere with decision processes and send mixed messages.
Masullo: We always hear “We need to get out in front of this!” When a crisis unfolds, how do you balance the pressure to take immediate response communication steps with the time needed to properly gather information?
Jim Satterfield: The first 24-hour communications are critical in a crisis. Remember, initial crisis reports and information are fluid and most of what you learn in the first 24-hours is wrong or incomplete.
There is always a perceived pressure to communicate.
We use the WHY-X-5 formula:
First and foremost: Wait.
When pressured to communicate ask – “WHY are we communicating this information now?”
Upon receiving an answer ask “WHY?” again.
If this “WHY? Process” is repeated five times and the answers are clear, the reasons for communicating are clear, the facts being communicated are clear, proceed to communicate. If not, hold on communicating.
Next, initial statements should be broad and not tactically specific. Where possible, let the first responders and/or authorities give the initial event details. Officials discuss what has happened – the past; organizations discuss what will happen – the future.
Masullo: What is the best way to organize communication in a crisis?
Jim Satterfield: Communication in a crisis falls into three categories: coordination, crisis and compliance.
Coordination is always first and relates to life and safety and is primarily internal.
Crisis relates to brand and reputation and is second and is generally external.
Compliance can be delayed until facts are known.
The initial organization crisis statements may be shaped around the following themes that we used to great success at Virginia Tech after the 2007 shootings and elsewhere:
- We will not be defined by this event
- We will invent the future
- We will embrace the families
Where communications are needed, speak directly to stakeholders not through the media. Your organization knows how to reach employees, customers, vendors and others directly. The media is not your friend.
Masullo: What should an organization be thinking about that they likely aren’t?
Jim Satterfield: That’s a great question considering:
- You know what you know
- You know what you don’t know but…
- You don’t know what you don’t know.
That last item is where problems arise; you may not even know problems have arisen because you don’t know you don’t know about any problems to begin with.
What we do know is that being surprised forces suboptimal decisions and communications and so continually focusing on reducing intelligence gaps while predicting emerging threats is essential. Confirming facts, controlling messages, identifying consequences and monitoring open-source intelligence places the organization in the best possible position in a crisis.
Masullo: Thanks so much Jim. Any last thoughts as we welcome 2017?
Jim Satterfield: First, stick to the basics: we know the five most common failures in a disaster or crisis are:
- Supply chain failure
- Failure to train employees on what to do in a disaster or crisis
- Failure to identify and monitor all threats and risks
- Failure to test and update plans
- Failure to have a crisis communications plan
Then ask: “What will my management team do when confronted with a crisis?”
Traditionally, organizations focus on external risks and address them with business continuity plans. Many more business crises however, are due to management’s failure to act quickly to an internal crisis or risk. These risks are much more likely to negatively impact an organization’s people, profits and reputation, and leadership is far more likely to make unprepared statements and take unplanned action that creates greater crisis chaos.
When something dramatic occurs, whether a traditional exposure such as fire or flood, or something else like a brand and reputation exposure, the response in the first minutes, hours and days will dramatically affect the financial, emotional and reputation outcomes. The greatest service that anyone can provide in this beginning stage of a crisis is to STOP – STOP in a crisis is both an acronym and a best practice.
As a best practice, it is important for anyone in a crisis to slow the flow of events down to a manageable level. The always present adrenaline in a crisis causes people to react far too quickly. Mistakes are always made. It is so important, in any crisis, to stop and take the time to truly appraise the situation.
As an acronym, STOP, stands for Stabilize, Trigger, Opine, Prevent. If you remember nothing else in 2017, remember that, and of course, call Firestorm.