Managing crises before they happen

Ian I. Mitroff with Gus Anagnos

The book is a collection of facts about crisis management.

In his definition for Crisis management in the first chapter, the author states that risk management and emergency planning have to do with natural phenomena, while crisis management mainly relates to crises caused by people. This narrow definition of crisis management is important for the correct interpretation when reading the rest of the book. He therefore argues that crises are an inherent part of modern communities. But also that crises caused by man can be avoided. It is important to always look for signals of problems in the environment. Denial of problems is the greatest danger.

In the second chapter, the author speaks about failing success. More specifically, how can the organization be the victim of its own success. Because certain actions have been repeated over and over and over again, such as the production and sale of Tylenol, one becomes blind to the weaknesses in the process, which for J & J in 1982 appeared to be the security from begin to end of tylenol. A lesson learned for J & J is that they always have to take responsibility for their product. An organization must therefore always search for new techniques, and constantly question its processes, including the security process. In order to draw up security plans, one must always consider the following five aspects of the environment in relation to the organization: complexity, links and connections between matters, the scope and size of processes and systems, speed and visibility.

In chapter three the author discusses a model for best practice for crisis management, based on risks, mechanisms, systems, stakeholders and scenarios. It is therefore necessary to have emergency plans for economic risks, information risks, physical risks, HRM risks, reputation risks, psychopathic actions and acts of god.

Chapter four is about what to say or not to say. The author mentions the ‘Johari Window’. A first golden advice is: investigate the situation, and avoid deceiving yourself. Always accept liability for your product and your actions. And know that there are no real secrets in this world anymore. There is always someone who knows what you do not want, and an investigative journalist is always there. And taking the initiative to tell the truth above that you have to be squeezed out is always preferable because you remain ‘in control’.

Linked to this is chapter five about taking responsibility: are you the victim or are you the bad guy? One is or will quickly and easily become the bad guy, one remains or becomes difficult the victim. Psychology of the mass plays a major role in this. It is important to take responsibility, to take action and not to actively play out the classic victim role. Give yourself as a spokesman an understanding and empathetic role and never get into technicities. Avoid alienation of victims, customers and stakeholders as a face of the organization. And never assume that the logic within the organization is also that of the media and the masses.

This is why chapter six is ​​also important: the detection of weak signals to deal with crises before they happen. Never block them! Pay attention to the alarms of people on the work floor. Keep your communication lines open. Reward people when they report a problem. And make sure people know what to do in a crisis.

To be able to do crisis management, one must also be able to think out of the box. Chapter seven is about that. A remuneration policy is therefore appropriate. By stimulating this way of thinking you will find new and original solutions to problems. In addition, decisions must also be made, which everyone, from top to bottom, must support. But beware of a known issue: watch out to solve the wrong problem. And always check that what is taken for granted.

Chapter eight is about seeing ‘the big picture’. How things come together, one crisis can ignite the other, but that a single event is seldom enough to blow up the situation. So all factors that contribute must be taken into account. Base the action plans on this, and consult the large picture regularly to ensure that you do not make the situation worse.

Chapter nine is the road that was seen in 2001 as a starting point in 2002. The most important advice in this is “Start by designing and implementing signal detection systems throughout your organization”.

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields. Since 2012, he has been working at the Crisis Centre of the Flemish Government (CCVO), where he has progressed in BCM, risk management, and crisis management. Since August 2021, he has been a knowledge worker for the CCVO. As of January 2024, he works at the Department of Chancellery and Foreign Affairs of the Flemish Government. Here, he combines BCM, risk management, and crisis management to create a tailored form of resilience management to meet the needs of the Flemish Government.

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