Crisis Management: What Is It?

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In today’s fast-paced, interconnected business world, a crisis can present itself without warning, catching even the most prepared organizations off-guard. A twist in market dynamics, an unforeseen operational failure, or a global phenomenon such as the COVID-19 pandemic – there’s an array of situations that may impose severe challenges for any business. According to statistics from FEMA, nearly 40% of small businesses never reopen after a disaster, demonstrating the significant impact a crisis can have on an organization’s survival. 

“Crisis management is the art of avoiding trouble when you can, and managing it well when you can’t.”

The importance of crisis management cannot be overstated. A robust, action-oriented strategy not only mitigates the immediate impact but also shields long-term reputation and shareholder value. It is akin to an insurance policy – one you hope never to cash in, but when you do, it becomes invaluable.

Understanding the Basics of Crisis Management 

In the complex world of business leadership, it is crucial to understand that crisis management goes beyond merely reacting tactically to unexpected, and frequently unwelcome, scenarios. This skill is a vital defence mechanism for an organization’s reputation, protecting its fiscal health and even revealing unexpected opportunities for evolution and change. 

Crisis management is an assembly of strategies directed towards aiding an organization in tackling a significant adverse event in a timely and efficient manner.

Emergencies could be minor operational glitches or major industrial mishaps, extending to a global health crisis. Such catastrophes pose serious hazards that can, if not managed incisively, prove fatal to an organization. 

Though each crisis brings unique challenges making it difficult to forecast every possible permutation, productive crisis management can limit the damage, nurture stakeholder trust, and, intriguingly, transform threats into opportunities. The intent behind this guide is to assist in formulating an all-encompassing crisis management plan—a well-accepted strategy for enhancing organizational resilience.

Mechanics of Crisis Management: How Does It Work? 

Crisis management encapsulates various steps tailor-made to anticipate, prepare, respond, and recover from any adverse situations. 

Anticipating the Crisis 

Anticipation involves identifying potential threats and the establishment of monitoring mechanisms. This phase is all about vigilance, incessantly scanning the environment and preparing for potential crises, hence equipping you with advanced warning to avoid a crisis or minimize its impact. 

Preparing for the Crisis 

The second phase is preparation, building a robust plan for handling unexpected disruptions effectively. Businesses need to create crisis communication and business continuity plans, prepare emergency responses, offer vital training to workforce, and test the crisis strategies before actual implementation. 

Responding to the Crisis 

When a crisis strikes, it’s the response phase where your team’s speed, coordination, and communication come to play. The key here is to act swiftly but thoughtfully with impeccable communication. Transparency and openness towards your stakeholders can maintain conviction and trust. 

Recovering from the Crisis 

Now that you’ve navigated the immediate crisis, it’s time for recovery. This stage is about learning from the crisis, reinforcing processes, focusing on reputation management and improving future preparedness. It’s all about getting back stronger and turning adversities into lessons for a successful future.

Types of Crisis

Just as no two businesses are identical, the types of crises they may experience can vary significantly. Understanding the distinctive types of crises that may pose a threat to your business is key to formulating an effective crisis management plan. The crises that necessitate critical attention usually fall into these categories: 

When considering crisis scenarios, it is essential to remember that threats could potentially emerge in diverse forms. Thus, businesses should be vigilant about developing comprehensive strategies to mitigate these potential disruptions and to ensure they remain on course to achieving their objectives.

Organizational Crisis 

An organizational crisis often arises from internal issues, including considerable changes in the workforce, leadership, or organizational structure. This type of crisis could lead to substantive operational disruptions if not adequately managed. In this context, your crisis management plan should incorporate strategies to address shifts in business operations and to bolster your leadership mechanisms. Creating open communication channels can also keep your team motivated and aligned during these challenging periods.

Infrastructural Crisis 

Infrastructural crises revolve around sudden disruptions in critical physical resources pivotal to your business’s daily operations. It could be a major failure in a production plant, distribution networks, or loss from theft or vandalism. Your crisis management plan should place a considerable emphasis on timely detection and rapid response to these threats along with robust plans for backup resources and security. 

Legal and Regulatory Crisis 

These are typically triggered by legal disputes, regulatory changes or compliance failures that can cause profound damage to your company’s reputation and financial situation. In managing this type of crisis, your plan should stipulate the steps required for proper legal advice and the prompt and transparent communication with all stakeholders. 

In all these situations, a well-constructed crisis management plan is like an insurance policy. It comprises various strategies to detect, manage, and mitigate crises. Remember, the effectiveness of your plan depends largely on your disposition to adapt and pivot in response to these unpredictable circumstances.

Financial Crisis 

A financial crisis could arise from a sudden drop in cash flow, a severe market downturn, or drastic changes in currency values. These situations often require rapid response and a well-coordinated financial strategy to prevent further damage to the organization’s bottom line. Above all, navigating a financial crisis successfully requires an unflinching analysis of current financial standing, root cause identification, decisive execution of mitigation strategies, and clear communication with all stakeholders. 

Human Resource Crisis 

Human resource crises typically revolve around matters relating to employees – strikes, unrest, sudden leadership vacancies, misconduct, or even significant health issues like a pandemic. In such cases, the key to effective crisis management lies in striking a balance between resolution, resource reallocation, carrying forward regular operations, and maintaining employee morale. Furthermore, adherence to predefined human resource management procedures and a consideration for the wellbeing of employees can help mitigate the risk of escalation. 

Technological Crisis 

A technological crisis can occur from a cybersecurity breach, damage to digital infrastructure, or failure of crucial technological assets. It is essential in this digital age to have cybersecurity measures and IT recovery solutions integrated into your crisis management plan. 

Reputation Crisis 

Crisis affecting a company’s reputation, such as public relations disasters, legal issues or massive customer complaints, can cause significant damage if not addressed immediately. Reputation management should be a critical facet in your crisis management plan. 

Natural Disasters 

Events beyond human control, such as earthquakes, floods, or pandemics, can disrupt business operations with little to no warning. Incorporating disaster recovery procedures and ensuring business continuity are imperative steps in managing these types of crises. 

Recognizing the range of possible crises your business may face is the first step in creating a bespoke crisis management plan. By doing so, you’re better prepared should a crisis arise and poised to navigate it effectively, lessening its impact on your company’s operations, reputation, and finances.

Before we dive into the vast landscape of crisis types and their management aspects, it might be helpful to consider a real-world example of successful crisis management. Look no further than the 1993 crisis that giant restaurant chain, McDonald’s, aptly managed, restoring public trust and safeguarding their reputation. 

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Starbucks’s PR Crisis in 2018

In 2018, Starbucks was thrust towards a potential PR disaster due to a grave incident of racial bias.

A short recap: Two black men were unjustly apprehended at one of Starbucks’ stores in Philadelphia. These two individuals were simply waiting for a friend and had decided not to place an order until his arrival. Despite being passive patrons, the store manager prompted them to leave because they hadn’t purchased anything. When they didn’t comply, the police were called in by the manager. After being detained for numerous hours, the individuals were released with no charges filed against them. The initial prognosis hinted at a severe tarnishing of Starbucks’ image.

However, the way Starbucks navigated this crisis evidently painted a picture of their competent crisis management skills.

“I’m embarrassed, ashamed. I think what occurred was reprehensible at every single level. I take it very personally, as everyone in our company does, and we’re committed to making it right.”

– Howard Schultz, Chairman of Starbucks

Let’s look into the strategic moves Starbucks made: 

  • First, Starbucks addressed the situation directly, with CEO Kevin Johnson making a public apology to the two men and promising a commitment to systemic change.
  • Then, keeping clear, transparent communication channels with the public, Starbucks announced their plans to conduct comprehensive racial-bias training for their staff.
  • Next, Starbucks demonstrated determination by closing over 8,000 stores for the racial-bias training day for 175,000 employees, showing their commitment to addressing the issue rather than focusing merely on profit.
  • Lastly, the commitment to long-term systemic change positioned Starbucks as an entity that put customer welfare and equality first.

In the face of a potential brand disaster, Starbucks’ successful crisis management reduced the long-term damage to its image. CNBC reports that Starbucks revenue rose from $22.39 billion in 2017 to $24.72 billion in 2018—an indication that the brand’s swift action and commitment to addressing the issue positively influenced consumer perception and sales. 

This case underlines that with strategic crisis management actions, even grave situations can be tackled, enabling companies to deal with adversities and come out stronger on the other side.


In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.

– John F. Kennedy

So, there you have it! Crisis management can seem like a daunting aspect of business, but through understanding, preparation, and prompt actions, any organization can navigate even the most severe crises. Be it an organizational, infrastructural, legal, or any other type of crisis; the principles remain the same. It’s all about acting rapidly, communicating effectively, and putting the right measures in place to prevent future recurrences. 

Remember the McDonald’s case? Despite a serious outbreak, the fast-food giant managed to recover and maintain trust through effective crisis management. By acting transparently, quickly addressing the issue, and making necessary changes to its food safety procedures, they showed the world that setbacks can be maneuvered into positive transformations. 

Crisis management is as much about anticipating potential crises as it is about responding to and recovering from them. In a world full of uncertainties, having a well-executed crisis management strategy is an asset. By staying prepared, your organization stands a much better chance of not just surviving, but thriving through any crisis that comes your way.