10 Questions Every CEO Should Ask About Crisis Management

October 25, 2014

The Ebola situation is testing federal, state and local governments’ capacity to manage unfolding events and public alarm in an unforgiving 24/7 news cycle, and in the process reinforcing important lessons about crisis preparedness.

Each organization defines a crisis differently, but we define it broadly as an unexpected or unplanned development that threatens an organization’s reputation or brand or puts its employees, owners, stockholders, customers or the community at involuntary risk.

Reputation-threatening events can undermine the public confidence and credibility upon which an organization is built – unless the organization is prepared to respond quickly and competently and to take the lead at a moment of uncertainty.

Before a crisis erupts, here are ten questions every CEO should ask:

  1. Do we have an internal crisis team who can be assembled on very short notice to manage the critical first few hours of our response? Does it include the right people – senior management, legal, regulatory and media experts, as well as human resources, customer, vendor, shareholder and government relations people? Do we have the capacity to manage a multi-day crisis and keep other essential functions running smoothly?
  2. Do we have a heads-up orientation at all levels to ensure that bad news is not buried but surfaced quickly so that the organization can respond quickly and appropriately?
  3. Do we have an early-warning system, including monitoring of mainstream media and social media to help us spot potential storms on the horizon?
  4. Do we have a means to contact all of our employees, customers and stockholders quickly?
  5. Do we have solid relationships with senior officials in the regulatory and law enforcement agencies with which we may be working to resolve emergent issues? Do we have good working relationships with local elected officials, who are often first on the scene, highly visible and likely to be interviewed by local media?
  6. Does our team have a credible working relationship with the journalists and bloggers who will cover this event – and the means to contact them quickly?
  7. Do we have credible relationships with the advocacy groups and NGOs who will critique our conduct?
  8. Do we know who will speak for our organization during a crisis? What types of crises require the personal involvement of the CEO? Have all potential representatives of the organization received appropriate media training? If we are managing from afar, do we have a senior decision-maker on the ground and reliable local intelligence and support?
  9. Do we regularly monitor how other similarly situated organizations manage crises and provide best-practice training?
  10. Do we have a post-crisis recovery plan for reputation rebuilding?

The truth is, sooner or later, every organization faces a crisis. The good news is that in many instances a crisis can be managed effectively and even used to effectuate positive change and strengthen an organization’s reputation. The key is to be prepared with protocols and messages before a crisis hits so that events can be navigated with confidence.

Mark Behan is president of Behan Communications Inc. and leads the firm’s crisis communications practice. Behan has served as a consultant to CEOs and senior managers of companies and non-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

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