It’s Really Not That Hard to Prevent a Crisis (Sometimes)

November 27, 2018

Corporate crises happen every day, and some are simply unavoidable. You can run a tight ship and develop a top-notch crisis management plan, but, sometimes, “stuff” just happens. Natural disasters are a great example: hurricanes, forest fires, and floods can be planned for, but not prevented.

Occasionally, companies are swept up into a crisis which they had no role in creating. Look no further than the Crock Pot crisis that resulted from a fictitious storyline on the popular television drama, “This is Us.” When a beloved character died in a fire caused by a faulty slow-cooker, the resulting drop in stock price was very dramatic…in real life.

Some crises result from deeply engrained structural problems, such as toxic corporate cultures that allow for significant #MeToo claims, or from poor management decisions, like those that drive the cover-up of a data breach that exposed sensitive customer data. These are crises within a company’s control and responsibility, but the problems may be so deeply woven into culture and values that there isn’t a “quick fix.”

However, many of the crises that occur daily in businesses across the U.S. are entirely avoidable. Do you need the resources of a global Fortune 500 company to side-step these calamities? No. Do you need a fulltime crisis management team? No. You need the wherewithal, motivation, and ability to conduct an intelligent risk assessment.

In 25 years as a crisis manager, I’ve seen crisis after crisis that could have been easily prevented, yet caused significant damage to the organization, customers, employees, community, and/or the CEO and Board members. In many cases, the outbreak of the crisis can be traced back to a single, often “insignificant,” failure or oversight: a dead battery, a broken gauge, a miscommunication, a lack of walkie talkies. It only takes a single match to start an inferno.

A proactive and thorough risk assessment works to identify, assess, and mitigate risks within your organization, eliminating certain crises and reducing the impact of others. What are the key steps in a risk analysis?

1.) Gather the proper leadership within your organization, including executive management and the directors of each key function area (e.g., operations, finance, HR, IT, legal, and communications).

2.) Assess each category of risk in your organization. Review risks both internal and external, from operational to criminal, security to natural disaster, and the risks posed both by social and traditional media. Review policies and the implementation of these policies, exploring a full slate of potential threats that could result in a crisis.

3.) Identify opportunities to reduce or eliminate risks. Through the process of assessing risks, flaws and weaknesses are revealed and can be proactively remedied with simple steps or longer-term action plans.

Once the assessment is completed, take corrective action as appropriate. Then, create a crisis response plan that addresses each category of risk. It is nearly impossible to plan for every potential situation in detail, but if you cultivate an awareness of the risks your organization faces and prepare for them, you can be confident that your emergency walkie-talkies will be ready when a storm knocks out cell service.

See also: Crisis Management Services

Erin Sanders is a Senior Communications Advisor with NP Strategy with more than 20 years of experience in crisis management and strategic communications. Erin has advised Fortune 500 and other companies across numerous industries in challenging situations from bankruptcy and mergers to cybercrime and #MeToo claims. Erin also has created award-winning and highly successful communications programs for clients who are not in crisis…yet. If you’d like assistance in performing a risk assessment and preparing your organization for a crisis (or to avoid one), email Erin at


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