Just before the Covid-19 pandemic started to hit Europe, we began Crisis Management consultancy for a large petrochemical company. Working together with the former global Head of Crisis Management for Royal Dutch Shell for over five years, we were asked to share international best practice Crisis Management.
The original objective was to enable the company – and in particular its internal and external crisis communication systems – to deal with unexpected situations that could adversely impact their reputation and license to operate. The advent of social media and raised stakeholder expectations have significantly increased the financial risk of not dealing effectively with crisis. Also, increasing scepticism over the role of plastics in society, together with concerns about contribution to climate change, mean that the chemicals industry faces additional scrutiny that can amplify potential negative opinion and affect a company’s reputation.
Crisis Management preparedness is assessed by looking at three aspects in an organisation: behaviours, process and compliance. Crisis Management capability requires not just good communications and stakeholder engagement, but also authentic leadership supported by responsive information and data analysis. Since crises by definition do not (normally) happen every day, a big challenge is whether a company is able to switch promptly into crisis mode when required. This involves practicing the mobilisation of a slimmer chain of command with the authority and the right team composition to get quickly to the heart of the matter and resolve it to the satisfaction of stakeholders, and ideally with reputation enhanced.
In order to assess a company’s current Crisis Management, a logical starting point is to look at the extent to which the internationally recognised, critical components of crisis management are in place. In practice these will be framed as questions to interview key players involved in the current set up, which together with a review of recent incidents, would be used to assess the current preparedness against international best-practice.
Crisis Management Building Blocks
The 16 critical components of an international, best practice Crisis Management process and organisation are as follows:
- Are there any current Crisis Management guidelines or a control framework? Is there an agreed definition of what constitutes a ‘crisis’ (or potential crisis), including how it differs from incident management (often safety- or security-related), emergency response, disaster recovery or business continuity?
- Clear governance: who is the ‘sponsor’ or process owner/executive for Crisis Management and who provides regular assurance that adequate capability exists to meet the risks identified?
- Prompt notification process: who is notified of a situation (incident, issue or other unexpected event) that may become a crisis and by whom? Does the company always hear promptly about bad news (that can create a crisis/potential crisis) directly from inside the company, and not from You Tube or other external sources?
- Activation of ‘crisis’: how is it decided if a situation is to be dealt with as a crisis, locally or centrally, and the crisis team mobilised?
- Crisis mandate: who is appointed as crisis leader and what authorities (financial, etc.) are they given? Who is in charge (responsible) and who is accountable? Locally or centrally?
- Is there a crisis manual, which identifies the crisis team members, facilities and stakeholders for the company and key locations?
- Are there crisis roles and descriptions? (normally a minimum of crisis leader plus communications lead, but best practice suggests also an Information lead).
- Have alternates (deputies or replacements) been identified? (Many crises will happen at weekends and other times when you are least prepared; then a crisis may require 24/7 cover, a day shift and a smaller night shift, as social media never sleeps and a fire doesn’t only burn during office hours).
- Are there any crisis facilities identified to be used by the crisis team and support teams to meet face-to-face and/or virtually?
- Is there crisis training and coaching of the crisis teams, leader(s) and alternate(s), communications teams, spokespersons and the Information team?
- Is there an agreed methodology on how to resolve a crisis? Are teams able to analyse the situation from a stakeholder perspective (outside in view), and engage to resolve it?
- Is there sufficient crisis communications capacity and resources to ensure the organisation is geared to act decisively and communicate clearly in a crisis situation?
- Is there a standard agenda, frequency, duration, recording of decisions and communication for crisis meetings?
- How regularly are practice exercise(s) held? How are learning and continuous improvement embedded?
- Is there clear alignment of Crisis Management (which is concerned with reputation, share price and license to operate) with incident management processes (which is focused on operational response to incidents and a return to business as normal)?
- Is formal annual risk assessment and assurance provided?
It should be obvious that a check of such a list of building blocks is not a tick-box exercise but can lead to a thorough assessment of capabilities and gaps in behaviours, process and compliance, which can lead to actions, improvement of processes and training as required.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many companies, large and small, into ad hoc crisis management organisation and even those companies that had processes in place have in some cases found them wanting.
Please get in touch with us if you would like us to review and advise on your company’s Crisis Management, against international best practice.