Trouble ahead concept, Businessman with umbrella standing in the rainJawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, once said, “Every little thing counts in a crisis.” Even though this statement was made nearly a century ago, it appears that many organizations are still learning this lesson. The recent unrest at the University of Missouri highlights the importance of a swift crisis response. Responding appropriately to a crisis in a timely manner is key when faced with a workplace crisis, no matter how small the perceived problem may be. As the situation at Mizzou illustrates, if crises are not responded to initially they can snowball into much larger problems…and then the national media is at your door.

The first step in a timely crisis response happens before the crisis. You need to ask your organization, “What will we do if something goes wrong?” Crisis response planning helps organizations answer the tough questions before a crisis occurs. The planning is designed to address the worst-case scenario. Though you may not be able to except all of the worst case scenarios, the goal is to establish protocols and procedures to guide management decision-making and employee actions no matter the situation. Harvard Business School summarized the ten questions that should be answered when developing a crisis response plan. One key piece of this planning process is to establish a crisis response team.

In the event of a crisis, the crisis response team should be assembled and the crisis response plan put into action. Several critical activities should occur:

  • Situational Assessment – Assess the scope of the crisis and determine the appropriate response scenario.
  • Communication – Consistent communication is a priority during a crisis. Communication messages should have the following characteristics:
    • establish a clear position
    • be honest
    • be concise
    • look forward to a solution
    • do not assign blame
    • ensure well-being
  • Closure – A post-crisis review signals the end of the crisis, as well as a learning opportunity.

If there’s anything that can be learned from the recent events at the University of Missouri, it is that signs of a potential crisis should never be ignored. Crises can happen at any time. Though there are tips and methods that can be applied to help improve an organization’s chance of survival if things go wrong, the most effective steps are the ones takes before times get tough. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” An EAP is often thought of for critical incident response services AFTER a worksite trauma has occurred, but an EAP can also be a key resource to assist with this pre-crisis plan development.