CEO as Crisis Executive Officer

By Thomas B. Cross @techtionary

leadership

As if we don’t have enough known crises coming from all directions there are new unknown crisis’s and emerging all the time. A term not discussed but known for decades has risen to the forefront #Metoo. While school shootings have been going on for a long time, they are now almost a weekly occurence. There are so many other kinds of hacks and natural disasters one would think that business with all these plus a daily dose of cyberattacks would “get a wakeup call” to be ready for anything when the call or rather social media goes viral with something going you need to respond to. Yet, most businesses don’t act or rather react when when stuff hits the fan or the stock drops, people are fired, the public is dismayed and like the movie it starts all over again – crisis – die – repeat. In Leadership in Turbulent Times by famed presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, talks about the presidents more as people than global leaders. Rather than focus on their triumphs she talks about the president’s personal and public crises. The book is full of interesting commentary. Yet, in all of that there is little to grasp onto as to what to do in your own crisis as CEO or other role you may play. I would like to get to the heart of this to help you build your own “crisis game plan.” To begin with even if you are a startup organize a team to build a plan with not just HR, security (physical and cyber), press, and others. Most PR aka digital marketing firms don’t get this issue nor have the skills to help either. However, find a real “firecracker” inside or outside the company a person wants to help, can really help you when it occurs. In testing your plan build some “packaged responses” to simulate prepare you for what you would say during the real crisis.

crisis

There is no one recipe for a plan. However, you can look at what BP did during the Gulf oil spill, what Chipotle did during the food scare, what Target did with the cyber-attack and what Facebook seems to be responding to every day with their own ongoing and now never-ending crisis. Facebook is a good model because now they are under the scrutiny of Congress, the public and of course their often-forgotten users. Facebook doesn’t have a plan, now they just respond to one “fire fight” after another as no one believes now that there will not be a next one. Let’s look at the types of attacks that can and will occur. Yes, assume the worst all the time anytime from now on. There are really three types of crisis’s – human-made, nature-made and self-made. Most any other kind of attack will fall in these three areas. Like in any battle, there are calculated-risks that one or more crisis will occur at any one time. For example, start listing the types of attacks that are human-made.

crisis

These would include human error (mistakes), errors in judgement (executive errors), product (air bags and other design flaws), corruption and theft and strategic errors (missed the market window). In the area of nature-made not planning for nature-made disasters can also end up as a crisis of confidence on the part of customers and stockholders. Self-made or self-inflicted are like human-made but clearly intentional and often as critical. Elon Musk’s recent meltdown would be considered along the lines of self-made where he made proclamations about taking the company private and then ended up smoking marijuana on a radio show (not a crime but certainly intentional). Once you have a list of the major types of crisis events that either have occurred or likely to occur you can then build a response plan for each. Internal checks which may already be inplace can also help but what you are really looking to do is build plans for what you don’t think will happen. This is hard because of all the “what if” scenarios you can think about may still not include what will really happen but at least gives you the opportunity to be ready. This is a great guessing game but even the idea of considering unlikely scenarios will give you insights as to what you should do when you need to do it. Finally, no plan is viable without a backup plan either. Test the plan just like you would practice for a “fire drill.” Review the plan monthly and have a report by the team leader on what new crisis’s have emerged, what competitors have faced and any changes to the crisis plan. This may not cover all your situations and conditions; however, it will help you get a “head-start” and not face an angry press, stockholders, law enforcement or worse – jail or death of a customer or employee.

In the meantime, CEO Global Pro offers ondemand crisis assistance as an optional service as part of their advisory services.

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