What will cause your next organizational crisis?
Crises are rare events. They are unexpected, unwanted and unpleasant. Experience shows if you don’t plan for crises, the consequences are much worse when a crisis strikes. Find out how your organization’s next crisis could be caused.
International surveys show organizations are generally not prepared to deal with crises. But first we need to know what we are talking about: A crisis is any issue, problem or disruption triggering negative stakeholder reactions that can threaten the organization’s viability. Notice that a crisis is about communicating with stakeholders, and is not about dealing with an operational emergency.
Around 80% of businesses around the world believe they are only 12 months from a potential crisis. Yet only 54% have a crisis plan in place. Why this poor situation???
In a crisis preparedness study conducted by Burson-Marsteller/Penn Schoen Berland in 2011, 826 decision makers interviewed globally gave general reasons for lack of crisis preparedness. These reasons amounted to indifference and cost. Expressed attitudes were:
- 33% thought a crisis plan would be rarely needed
- 18% thought it would be too difficult to set up or manage
- 14% thought it would be too expensive
- 13% thought other matters were a higher priority
Most common reasons nominated in the Burson Marsteller study for crisis causes:
- 31% Controversial company development (eg retrenchments)
- 20% Logistic difficulties (eg transport, delivery problems)
- 19% Danger to product safety (defective or contaminated parts)
- 18% Technical accidents (eg natural disaster or explosion)
- 16% Online or digital security failure
Analysis by issue and crisis expert Tony Jaques* found the real causes of crises are more likely to be:
- Poor maintenance practices
- Human error
- Bad planning
- Material failure
- Unethical or dishonest behavior
- Unresponsive culture
- Leadership failure
- Poor judgment
- Insufficient training, eg maintenance workers, designers or accountants
*Jaques, T. (2007). ‘Issue management and crisis management: an integrated, non-linear, relational construct’. Public Relations Review, 33(2), pp. 147-157.
Benefits of crisis planning
Companies with a plan recover faster, especially in short-term crises. Those with a plan are more likely to handle the crisis effectively:
Source: (Burson-Marsteller / Penn Schoen Berland 2011 Crisis Preparedness Study. Interviews of 826 decision makers globally in May-June 2011.)
Sudden versus smoldering crises
Research consistently shows most have been smoldering. They are predictable. For instance, the US Institute for Crisis Management concluded that 3/4 of crises in 2015 had been smoldering that year. Only about 25-30% were sudden and totally unexpected.
These conclusions are consistent with the results of analysis conducted by crisis experts of thousands of US cases over 10 years to 2010. They found managers knew about smoldering concerns, or should have known about them before they turn into major issues and crises. Planning would have minimized most of them.
Analysis of the origins of crises found:
- 50% managers were responsible
- 32% employees were responsible
- 18% other reasons
Year after year, most business and organizational crises are caused internally by people in a leadership or management position or by other employees, not by external factors.
If managers are responsible for 50% of crises through inaction etc, and other employees are responsible for a further 30%, then 80% of crises can be anticipated and responses planned – because people know about them early. Result: better reduction of impact or prevention. Therefore sound planning is vital to avoid or minimize crises.
I discuss how to prevent or minimize crises in other articles.