Small Business

4 Ways to Prepare for a Crisis

Small Business Solutions

Spend five minutes watching broadcast news or scrolling through social media feeds and it’s clear the world is becoming increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA). For those driving communication, this reality presents challenges … as well as opportunities. 

Whether conflicts, controversies, or catastrophes, crises by their very nature are VUCA events. The culture wars, disinformation, the advent of AI, and a contested information environment have added further unpredictability. 

In its most recent report (2022), the Institute for Crisis Management (ICM) tallied 2.1 million crisis-related news items. Of these, 57% were smoldering or prolonged crises, and 43% were sudden crises. While the specific nature of disorder, disruption, and damage may be unclear, the potential for organizational harm isn’t.

Stoic philosopher Seneca said, “The man who has anticipated the coming of troubles takes away their power when they arrive.” It’s a natural inclination to believe you can fend off negative developments – social scientists even have a name for it: “overconfidence bias.” But acknowledging the possibility of chaotic conditions can stimulate the sort of collaboration that makes an organization more resilient. 

During the most difficult of times, both your words and actions are likely to have far-reaching consequences. So, be mindful of the following whenever you ponder the likelihood of a crisis. 

  1. Ready: Do you have a defined, multifaceted crisis team of decision-makers? Have you conducted a risk or threat assessment? If tested, is your organizational mission-focused? Does it have reputational fitness, and are ethics a priority? Do you have public relations partners with real-time listening, monitoring, and response mechanisms? Is your culture one of open communication, psychological safety, and trust, with built-in mechanisms for collaboration and ongoing improvement?
  2. Recognize: Do you have quick, clear sensors, feedback loops, and internal communication protocols? Is your organization effective at sense-making? Can you distinguish between actual signals and noise to identify whether a problem is clear, complicated, complex, or chaotic? Do you have an approach for each?
  3. Respond: Do you have a process for observation, orientation, decision, and action … and are you prepared to loop through this process, reorienting and even reversing direction as necessary? Can you adjust or change to cope with unforeseen circumstances? Can your organization combat internal friction, silos, and politics to find harmony? Do you put people first?
  4. Recover: Do you consider trust, credibility, and relationships to be essential intangible assets? Do you have an intangible investment strategy?

About the Author: Michael Cherenson, APR, Fellow PRSA is executive vice president of SCG Advertising + Public Relations and co-academic director of the Communication Certificate Program at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information. In 2009, he served as national chair and CEO of The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

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