Your Inevitable Next Organizational Crisis: What It Will Be and How to Respond

Face it: odds are quite good that there is an organizational crisis in your future. If you’re not worried yet, then here are a few likely scenarios to keep you awake at night:

  • If your headquarters is anywhere near an earthquake zone, seawater, or parched vegetation, chances are you’ll be a victim of some sort of a climate-derived crisis.
  • If you have women and men in your workforce, there’s a 38% chance that the women have experienced sexual harassment.
  • If you have an office or plant in the U.S., given the ratio of guns to people and the proliferation of hate speech and violence, the odds are good that you will deal with work-place violence.
  • If your CEO has any combination of ego, big mouth, unbridled libido, or political ambition, chances are you will face a self-inflicted organizational crisis.
  • You might even find yourself fending off competitors’ attacks from fake social media accounts produced by Polish troll farms.

According to Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) there are three basic types of organizational crisis:

  1. Victim Crisis—when your organization is perceived to be a victim of the crisis.
  2. Accidental Crisis—when your organization is perceived to be at fault, but the action was unintentional.
  3. Preventable Crisis—when your organization makes a decision or takes an action that caused the crisis.

SCCT recommends a variety of crisis responses, based on the situation. The bad news is that most of those probably won’t work anymore, thanks to the cynicism and skepticism of today’s audiences. So not only are your odds of facing an organizational crisis increasing, but your bag of tricks for dealing with that crisis may come up empty.

What’s a conscientious crisis communicator to do? Below we offer some suggestions for effective responses, and also some ways to avoid shooting yourself in the foot. Take heed and be prepared.

Type of crisis Likely examples in 2020What you should doWhat you shouldn’t do
Climate-change caused natural disasterDemonstrate concern and take action to ensure human safety.Pursue extraneous marketing activities and events.
Random workplace shootingDemonstrate concern and take action to ensure human safety.

Take action to prevent further gun violence.

Offer free long-term counseling and possible compensation for victims and their families.
Assign or attribute blame.
Troll farm attack from a competitorExpose the trolls and the organization(s) behind it.

Call in local law enforcement if possible.
Keep it quiet or pretend it isn’t happening.
Product tamperingPull all products off the market and shelves.

Demonstrate the utmost concern for victims and potential victims.

Demonstrate strong cooperation with law enforcement, being as transparent as possible.
Claim “confidentiality” and/or limit the scope of the recall.
Human or product malfunctionDo a root-cause analysis of the failure. Go public with the results as soon as humanly possible.

Call victims or victims’ families.

Compensate victims.
Blame a “rogue” employee.

Let lawyers do the talking.
Misquote or misstatementCorrect the error and provide context and an explanation in every possible medium and all platforms. Start with whatever platform the crisis started on.Do nothing and hope it all goes away. Remember that every word lives forever on the Internet.
#metooTerminate or suspend the individual accused.

Hire an outside investigative team.
Investigate yourselves.

Blame or shame the victim.
Product failureDo a root-cause analysis of the failure.

Reach out to anyone hurt by the failure and meet with them in person. Bring in employees that may have contributed to the failure together with victims.

Someone may need to fall on his or her sword, so prepare for leadership change.
Blame it on one employee or, worse, the victims.

Make the explanation overly technical or legal.
Management misconductTerminate everyone involved immediately.

Use an outside investigative firm to determine what really happened and publicize the results.
Try to sweep anything under the rug.

Thanks to wolfblur on Pixabay for the image.

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