The Importance of Activation Speed in Crisis Management Planning
When a crisis strikes in the digital age, it moves with dizzying speed. Recent research indicates that more than one-quarter of crises spread to international media within an hour; two-thirds of crises reach media outlets worldwide within the first 24 hours. Meanwhile, the average organization is scrambling to respond and manage the crisis, leaving time for a dangerous and costly “information vacuum” to form.Consider your own organization: How quickly would you be able to activate your crisis management plans? How long would it take for your crisis response team to notify stakeholders and set the correct wheels in motion? An hour? A day?
Activation speed is one of the vital components of crisis management planning. And with every passing year, quick activation becomes even more important. Let’s take a closer look at the reasons why.
The proliferation of digital technology has quickened the pace of emerging crises. When a crisis breaks, it unfolds incredibly fast.
This is particularly true for two of today’s most significant threats to businesses: cyberattack and data breach. Cybercriminals leverage sophisticated technologies and techniques to steal information or take it hostage, extremely quickly, usually before the victim even knows what is happening.
Meanwhile, digital technology is also allowing news of a crisis to spread more rapidly. Breaking news, scandal, hearsay, and complaints travel extremely fast online, thanks to social media and the 24-hour news cycle.
Consumer technology, as well as social media, has helped to “democratize” information, enabling individuals to broadcast news to large audiences, quickly organize with others, and spread their opinions more rapidly and widely than ever before. As a result, news of a single event may have already made global headlines by the time your crisis response has been activated—a scenario that is especially plausible during nonwork hours and on weekends and holidays.
The Sin of Slowness
With today’s crises moving at breakneck speed, a slow or incomplete crisis response can have a negative impact on your company. When you do not activate your response quickly and “get out ahead” of the problem, the crisis can intensify.
In the face of a cyberattack or data breach, you must be able to activate your crisis response team and other relevant stakeholders—immediately. In most cases, your IT team will need to shut down or isolate networks and begin working on a solution as soon as possible. Mere minutes can mean the loss of significant amounts of money or customer records.
Meanwhile, an information vacuum can form online. As people speculate about what is truly going on, misinformation and outrage can easily grow and spread.
For example, when United Airlines ordered a passenger to be dragged off a flight in April, officials could have guessed that cellphone video of the incident would go viral and cause significant outrage online. But instead of immediately issuing a statement to explain their position, United spokespeople waited until the following day—after the video had been viewed millions of times—before commenting. By this point, they were on the defensive and were already pegged as “the bad guys” by people around the globe.
In all crises, it’s better to respond quickly and do what you can. Even if you cannot provide a full explanation of what happened or is happening, issuing a brief statement can go a long way. Your customers, employees, and partners will feel reassured and more likely to trust you in the future.
Evaluating and Improving Your Activation Speed
As you can see, activation speed is a vital part of crisis management planning. If you’re unsure of how long it would take your organization to activate your crisis plans, now is the time to test them—before an actual incident occurs.
Testing your plans at least once or twice a year can be helpful in keeping your activation speed up to par. Discussion-based exercises bring all stakeholders together for a tabletop walk-through of your plans. More in-depth operations-based exercises involve staging a full simulated crisis in order to more accurately assess your activation speed.
As you prepare to test your plans, set goals for your speed of response. These will likely vary depending on the type of crisis; for example, a cyberattack should require a near-immediate response, while a 30-minute response may suffice for a social media crisis.
Following your test, assess whether your response time is meeting your goals. If not, determine which updates or changes will help improve activation speed. This may involve bringing in different stakeholders, digitizing your crisis planning documents, updating communication technologies, or identifying different resources to help shorten response time.
For example, strategically leveraging technology, such as a crisis management app, enables your stakeholders to react immediately to a crisis with real-time access to crisis plans and in-app messaging.
With careful planning and strategic use of technology, your organization will be better equipped to move as fast as a crisis moves. As a result, your bottom line and your reputation will be better protected from any potentially harmful incident.