CW Fong & Associates is a management and training consultancy that does all things digital for Singapore Small and Medium Enterprises (SME).
Friday, January 27, 2017
Crisis Communications: Characteristics of a Crisis
Knowing the characteristics or the anatomy of a crisis is important as it will
enable you to know when to take the necessary steps to mitigate it. The worse
thing that can happen is for an organization to be in a crisis, not know it and
continue with business as usual. Then by the time the organization
realizes it is in a crisis, it will be in full crisis mode. As a general
rule, the sooner an organization addresses a crisis, the better the chance of
containing its impact.
A crisis typically has four main characteristics.
Firstly, there is volatility. What this means is that public
reaction towards the issue can fluctuate significantly. It can be a case of one
moment no one is talking about it, and the next the organization is being
flamed by thousands of netizens. Issues that affect an organization that does
not have the possibility of this dynamic range of reaction is not considered
a crisis. This is because slow burn issues can be managed via normal business processes.
The second characteristic is uncertainty. When we talk
about uncertainty, we are talking about the unpredictability of the issue. In
other words, no one knows what trajectory it will take. One minute, public
reaction towards the issue could be about the incident, the next minute the
focus could switch to the owner of the organization or even some past incident.
In short, there is no clear direction in which the issue is heading and this
then becomes a crisis as the organization will not be able to anticipate and
address the issues effectively.
The third characteristic is complexity. Here, multiple forces
act on and confound the issue. Making matters worse, would be the lack of a cause-and-effect
chain or confusion surrounding the issue. This complexity, similar to
uncertainty, affects that organization’s ability to respond and hence puts
the organization on the defensive and in crisis mode as it scrambles to resolve
the issue and to get ahead of the narrative.
The fourth characteristic of a crisis is ambiguity.
Ambiguity refers to the situation where an issue can be viewed from multiple
perspectives and take on multiple meaning. This potential for misinterpretation
once again acts against the organization as it then becomes difficult for the
organization to manage the issue.
In summary, an organization is usually thrust into a crisis
when an issue has the four characteristics of volatility, complexity,
uncertainty and ambiguity. I must however add, that depending on that nature of
the issue, having one or more of these characteristics alone is sufficient to
put an organization into a crisis.