I was recently asked an interesting question by an audience member. The question was:
“Is there a secret formula for ensuring our crisis team remains calm in a fast-paced, high profile crisis?”
It’s true that crises are stressful times. Not to mention that, as a study recently confirmed, stress is contagious, which makes it even more important to effectively manage in a crisis. But as I spoke with this audience member, I got the impression that they really did hope I’d provide them with a simple formula for ensuring that their crisis team would be calm, cool and collected in a crisis, no matter what. And while there are ways to reduce stress and its level of impact in a crisis, there is unfortunately no sure-fire way to eliminate the potential effects of stress in all situations, each and every time.
The fact of the matter is that as human beings, we’re all complete with skill sets, flaws and emotions and each person reacts differently when faced with high-pressure situations. And while you certainly want your crisis team to have the quality of staying calm under stress, the truth is that you can never truly be sure until you’re faced with a given stressful situation – and even then, just because a leader may stay calm in some difficult situations, doesn’t mean that they always will under every situation. There are a number of factors and reasons that can result in even the calmest person getting overwhelmed and making mistakes when pressures and emotions are running high.
So then what can you do to at least ensure that all the cards are stacked in your favor?
Whether you want to hear it or not, the secret to managing stress in highly and negatively impactful situations is to be as prepared as possible.
While many factors of crisis management are beyond your control in the heat of the moment, your level of preparedness prior to a crisis is the thing you have the most control over. And there are a number of ways that planning and preparing for crisis – as well as mitigating potential risk – will drastically help minimize the amount and impact of stress on your team.
Following are some items that I recommend putting on your “to-do list” prior to experiencing a crisis for the purpose of stress management… and crisis prevention… and stakeholder retention… and the list of benefits goes on!
1- Develop a scalable and comprehensive crisis preparedness program
The right crisis preparedness program will prompt you to think through the most high-risk crisis scenarios that pertain to your organization, prevent the preventable and plan for the unpreventable. Just the act of undertaking this type of exercise with your entire crisis team will provide a level of competence and preparedness that will help mitigate the effects of stress if that crisis were to occur. For example:
- Defining the difference between an issue and a crisis will help mitigate the potential overreaction to an incident.
- Developing a strong governance structure will help the team understand their respective roles, responsibilities and expectations.
- Developing an adequate and effective internal escalation process will help you ensure swift escalation to the right people when needed – as well as an effective filtering process that prevents wrongful (and stressful) escalation when escalation is not needed.
- Developing crisis communication strategies for different types of crisis scenarios will help you pre-determine the correct approach for response in each case. For example, at what point should you respond proactively verses reactively? When is it appropriate for the team to sit back and monitor, while allowing the situation and conversation to unfold – and die down – on its own?
- Drafting and pre-approving specific crisis communications will help you manage the time pressures in a crisis, which can be stressful in and of themselves. If you’re thinking through your most likely high-risk scenarios and their response strategies, then you can also think through, draft and have the team pre-approve the types of communications and message points you would use in those scenarios, enabling an effective and timely response when needed.
- Creating action plans or task consideration lists for the different members of your crisis team will go a long way in helping the team stay focused on their priorities. Not to mention that, in a stressful or emotional event, judgment can get blurred. So thinking through these important action items now, with a cool and collected mind, can help alleviate a lot of the stress in a fast-paced crisis.
- Taking the time to gather useful information and create a resource repository within your crisis management playbook will help your team remain organized in the heat of the moment. For example, do you have an easy and efficient way to find the phone numbers of your most important stakeholders in a crisis? Are there particular side letters or contractual agreements that come into play in certain situations that your legal team needs to be aware of? If so, would it be beneficial to gather that information now and have it easily accessible in the midst of a crisis?
Taking the time to think through and organize all of these aspects of crisis preparedness now, will go a long way in reducing your team’s stress level in the initial moments of a breaking crisis. Being organized, deliberate and prepared is an objective that should be set and achieved when implementing a crisis-ready culture.
2- Conduct regular trainings and crisis simulations
I like to say that you never hope to experience a crisis, but when faced with a crisis you hope to have experience. Gaining experience is a great way to reduce one’s stress level. The right trainings and crisis simulations do exactly that. They provide hands-on, practical experience that builds strong teams, confidence and skill sets that prove invaluable in a real-time crisis.
The level in which stress impacts your team in a crisis is in your hands
While there may not be a secret recipe for dealing with stress in a crisis, there are a number of things you can do prior to ever experiencing a crisis to provide your team with the knowledge, competence and confidence for dealing with stressful crises if and when they occur – which, in-turn, will help reduce their overall level of stress in the situation.
The more experience and preparedness you have, the less overwhelming and stressful a crisis will feel to be in the heat of the moment, which goes back to the whole aspect of a #crisisready corporate culture I’m always talking about.
What measures do you and your team take to mitigate the impact of stress in crisis management? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!
Image credit: Kuznetsov Dmitriy/shutterstock.com
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.