The second of three posts on what the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us about crisis and issues management.
#2. Externally driven crises bring different challenges, but challenges nonetheless
There’s quite a difference between managing a crisis that is internally driven and one that is externally driven.
An internally driven crisis is one that you as an organisation have, or are perceived to have, created yourself. You are the centre of attention and the pressure is on not only to manage impacts but also to resolve the problem and explain how it happened. Examples of such classic corporate crises would be oil spills, governance scandals, product recalls etc.
An externally driven crisis feels different. It is not caused by you and may be affecting multiple organisations and society at large. Scrutiny on you is less intense, and stakeholders may even be feeling empathy towards you. Externally driven crises are done to you, not by you and include terror attacks, weather events… and pandemics.
COVID-19 has seen organisations everywhere managing the impacts of something they didn’t cause. In responding, they have two main roles.
First, they must look after their people, customers, stakeholders and their business. Not all have managed this well, with some being called out for making poor decisions or pursuing an approach seemingly at odds with the wider societal response; but this is essentially impact management.
Second, they should go the extra mile for the public good. Many companies have redoubled their efforts in their core business to keep us moving, connected, entertained, educated, healthy and safe. Many have redeployed their expertise and resources to help manage the situation. This is an opportunity to build trust but must not be mistaken for a CSR ‘optional extra’: there is the expectation that if you can help, you must.
In my previous post I talked about organisations not invoking their crisis capabilities to manage COVID-19 because it did not feel like a true corporate crisis. But whilst this (and other externally driven crises) may not feel like the high-scrutiny events for which you have prepared, they need careful management. The risk of failure as you manage impacts on your people and customers is a real one, and a poor response can mean that an opportunity to build trust is lost.
Should organisations prepare their crisis capabilities differently for externally driven crises? I don’t think so. Certainly, operational preparedness (contingency planning, business continuity) can and should be ready for these known external risks. But at the strategic crisis management level, a fit-for-purpose and agile capability will work for any sort of crisis: internal or external, incident or issue. Keeping crisis management simple, rather than creating a complex set of situation-specific rules, means leaders can be ready for anything.