Updated: Jun 25
In the 2015 whey protein concentrate crisis, one of the things that global dairy company Fonterra were criticised for in a New Zealand Government enquiry was not getting the right information quickly enough to the senior executive team.
They were also criticised for not having a sufficiently prepared crisis management team either which is the subject of another post, but the key point I want to make is getting information to senior levels at the right time and with appropriate speed is critical -
but not as easy as it may seem.
You don’t want to pester senior executives with everything, but neither do they want to be surprised when a crisis is sprung on them.
Having a very clear “triage” or initial assessment process and triggers for engaging the crisis management team becomes really important.
I’m Steve Hather from CrisisClarity and I know after 30 years in the crisis management world that it is conflict and confusion that creates a crisis. We help food and consumer goods companies build the processes and capabilities you need to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.
I wanted to round out my series of posts on effective crisis management teams by starting from the beginning - when do you decide to call them together?
An effective triage or initial assessment process will help make sure you can gather the right people and resources together quickly and get in front of an incident before it becomes a crisis and engage your crisis management team at the right time.
1. Escalation Process
First, establish a very clear escalation process that describes how information about an incident from first identification to calling together the crisis management team. having a visual representation of the process is a good idea because it forces you to get clarity around the process. If you'd like an example of one I often start with send me an email - firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be happy to send you a copy.
2. Establish "triggers"
There are a number of ways that you might identify an incident. A consumer complaint on your Facebook page, a retail customer calls you about a product return, your QA team picks up a problem in production, your supplier calls you to let you know they have supplied an out of spec ingredient or component, your receptionist receives a threatening phone call …
Whatever it is, the people who are likely to receive this information have to have clear guidance or triggers on when to escalate. The trick here is to provide guidance not hard and fast rules. One of the characteristics of a crisis is surprise - something you haven’t seen before, something you may not have even thought about. Build a culture that encourages telling someone when in doubt.
The person that first identified the incident will also need to get back to the stakeholder with an initial response while the process is going on - particularly if it was posted on social media, so making sure they are trained, have clear guidance and are confident in early engagement. This will help prevent escalation.
3. Identify and train an incident coordinator or crisis leader
Most companies follow the normal hierarchical management structure but this can often be slow and laborious and sometimes each manager feels obligated to contribute something to the resolution of the problem. When it is clear that the incident is serious, best practice is to escalate the information quickly to a trained incident coordinator or crisis leader will make sure the appropriate attention is given to the incident, including gathering further information and getting an investigation started, as well as making sure appropriate managers are informed.
4. Your initial assessment
Lastly, bringing together a small team to conduct an initial assessment, and make the decision to call together the crisis management team will ensure this critical first stage of a crisis is managed well. It ensures your crisis management team has at least some information to start with and is well briefed on the key issues they need to deal with.
So, in summary, to efficiently and effectively engage your crisis management team, I suggest you establish
A clear escalation process
Guidance or “triggers" for those that are likely to identify an incident, and ensure they get their initial response right
A trained incident coordinator or crisis leader, that can lead ….
An initial assessment process that includes the decision to call together the crisis management team
Get these key elements right and you reduce the likelihood of escalation and increase your ability to get in front of the incident and prevent it from becoming a crisis.
If you’d like more information on getting your triage process right, email me at email@example.com and we can arrange a short zoom meeting at no cost and no obligation. 30 minutes of your time could save millions of dollars in a crisis you don’t need to have.