Guide to Crisis Management Strategies | Smartsheet (2024)

Your senior management team should take charge of building a crisis strategy, and the first step is to review your organization’s mission and assess the firm’s weaknesses. Then, establish the items you want to protect in a crisis and those that you consider expendable. Following are the six steps to create a crisis management strategy and address an actual crisis:

1. Check Core Values and Gather Information: Review your mission and vision, and make sure those values guide your strategy.

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Dave Thompson, Crisis Communication Expert and Media Trainer at C3 Collective, says staying true to your culture is paramount. When an organization is defining its crisis management strategy, “it should change neither its original mission, nor its vision or values,” he explains.

You should also do a high-level assessment of your organization’s vulnerabilities. Use this crisis vulnerability matrix to rank potential crises by probability of occurrence and severity of impact. The results will rank crisis types, providing your team with priorities for its planning effort.

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Download Crisis Vulnerability Assessment Matrix Template

Excel | Word l PDF

To analyze your risks, use this risk assessment matrix template, which allows you to prioritize weaknesses in order to address and assess the effectiveness of your crisis management efforts.

Download Risk Management Matrix Template

Excel l Word | PDF |Smartsheet

2. Set Goals: While you cannot predict the types of crises you may face, it’s important that you agree on the most important, high-level outcomes, such as maintaining the safety and health of your staff, minimizing delays in customer orders, or maintaining your cash flow.

Focus on a few objectives, and avoid the temptation to set zero impact as your goal — that’s just unrealistic.

This crisis management policy template enables you to record the goals you worked on in your strategic planning and add any related information.

Guide to Crisis Management Strategies | Smartsheet (4)

Download Crisis Management Policy Template - Word

In addition, decide which of your normal business priorities you can set aside during a crisis. Can you tolerate an increase in your average customer hold time or relax your overtime policies? Identify the areas from which you can divert staff resources and money to support the crisis response.

Track crisis-related metrics that reflect the objectives you identified as critically important. During a crisis, you can use a simplified dashboard of these key performance indicators to stay informed and maintain focus on your priorities. This dashboard template provides an easy-to-read, graphic view of these high-level KPIs.

Download Executive Dashboard Template - Excel

3. Form a Team: Keeping your overall goals in mind, designate a crisis management team to plan tactics. This group will write your crisis management plan and execute it when a crisis strikes.

Provide this team with resources and support from the top. Business continuity planners should work with your crisis management team as well as do their own detailed planning. For details on the role of the CEO and top executives in a crisis, see “How to Build an Effective Crisis Management Team.”

4. Take Strategic Actions: You previously identified gaps or weaknesses in your business that you need to address in order to support your crisis management strategy. Now, do the work necessary to address such weaknesses. For example, increase your emergency cash reserve, create a climate of open communication, build a new factory that is earthquake resistant, or establish relationships with backup suppliers.

It’s particularly crucial to make sure that your finances, stakeholder relationships, and organizational reputation are in good shape — before a crisis strikes.

5. Make Sure the Right People Handle the Sensitive Priorities During a Crisis: The CEO and senior leaders of enterprises and large organizations are typically not involved in running the operational response to a crisis. Instead, the following sensitive strategic priorities are typically the executive management team’s responsibility:

  • Make sure the organization is acting ethically and compassionately.
  • Monitor and analyze developments for high-level implications.
  • Limit financial damage and generate extraordinary cash needs.
  • Clear any high-level obstacles that the crisis team faces, such as a need for more resources.
  • Protect the organization’s reputation.
  • Evaluate contingency plans.
  • Provide leadership when you set a course of action.
  • Communicate with key stakeholders (including the media, if appropriate).

“Even though your organization is in crisis, it is not about you,” Thompson reminds CEOs. “It's about the victims of the crisis, your organization's stakeholders, and your employees. If you take care of them, then you'll be taking care of the organization. If you forget them and think only of the organization and its executives, you could lose it all.”

For examples of strong and weak crisis management by companies, see “The Most Useful Crisis Management Examples: The Good, Bad, and Ugly.”

6. Thank and Recognize Your Staff after a Crisis: Thank and recognize your staff for its extraordinary efforts during a crisis. Make sure your crisis management team does a detailed post-crisis review and evaluates its findings.

  • Your senior management team should do a strategic review and consider the following questions:
  • Could we have seen the crisis coming?
  • What early indicators did we miss or ignore?
  • How well did the crisis management plan and the crisis management team work?
  • Did the organization respond effectively to the crisis?
  • What went well and what needs improvement?
  • Was our communication clear and consistent?
  • Did our reputation or our confidence in our organization suffer?

With the aim of making your organization more resilient, revise your strategy based on your answers to the aforementioned questions. These post-crisis lessons may also necessitate changes in staff training, HR policies, operations, compliance, and other areas of your organization. Delegate the implementation of these changes.

This crisis management strategy template walks you through the steps to make these changes and provides space to summarize the key elements of your strategy.

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Download Crisis Management Strategy Template

Word l PDF |Smartsheet

See “Free Crisis Management Templates” to download other templates for management plans, helpful checklists, and tabletop exercises.

To learn more about the effects of poor crisis management and communication, take a look at these crisis management examples.

A Strategic Approach to Crisis Management

According to Crisis Management: Leading in the New Strategy Landscape, a book by Professor of Management William Rick Crandall and two colleagues, building your crisis management strategy requires a strategic mindset, which includes four main attributes:

  • The ability to do a thorough analysis of strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities
  • The ability to think long term, sometimes many years into the future, while simultaneously factoring in your knowledge of your organization’s past and present
  • The ability to be opportunistic and take advantage of favorable circ*mstances, while avoiding internal or external pitfalls
  • The willingness to make difficult choices

Similarly, there are four main influences that shape crisis management strategy:

  • Cultural: Cultural influences to an organization can be both internal and external, including prevailing norms in ethics and values.
  • Institutional: These are concerns such as regulatory and legal constraints.
  • Behavioral: These influences often include politics (i.e., the ways in which people and groups interact within the organization).
  • Environmental: These include economic conditions and technological realities.
Guide to Crisis Management Strategies | Smartsheet (2024)
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