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.

anatomy characteristics of a crisis

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.


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