The 80/20 Rule of Crisis Management

Spoiler Alert: It All Starts With A Simple Issue

We’ve seen some doozies recently in the news when it comes to companies behaving badly.

It’s easy to think that those PR faux pas just happened out of the blue – after all, isn’t that what crises are?  Unpredictable situations, and you simply need to buckle down and manage them when they happen?

Actually, an 80/20 rule exists for crisis management. The reality is that at least 80 percent of crises are preventable.  

The other 20 percent? Let’s chalk those up to “people errors.” Because, let’s face it, when people are involved, mistakes will happen. The key lies in anticipating and solving issues through several simple — but not easy — steps. 

5 Steps to Avoiding a Crisis

1.      Make issue-solving core to your company culture. While it may not be the “crisis of the day,” that’s what you’re trying to avoid. Practice and celebrate an issue-solving mentality. After all, it’s just an issue. Fire drills will happen less and less. You’ll keep happy, productive employees longer. And your customers will notice and reward you with their business.

2.      Address issues when they are big enough to see, but still small enough to solve. You’ve seen them. They are the recurring, nagging issues that haven’t yet caused too much heartache, but you’d never want to see them in the newspaper, or spreading like wildfire online. Rip the band-aid off. Dig in and solve it. 

3.      Solve the root issue, not just a consequence. Ask “why” five times. Engage the team by going “once around the table.” Make sure you’re solving the root issue, and not just a consequence. Rule of thumb – if a similar issue happens again, you didn’t get to the root cause.

4.      Identify next steps and document. Once you’ve solved an issue, identify actions to take and document the solution. This becomes your process. Make sure people know and follow it. And, voila, you never have to solve this one again.

5.      Learn from missteps. Getting better means learning. Many times, the best education comes from mistakes. We’ve all felt the sting of an error, and it should trigger a revisit of #3 – solving the root issue. Rinse and repeat until satisfied. Or, until you make another mistake.

Kim McKeeman is the CEO and Founder of McKeeman Communications, a PR and marketing communications agency with North Carolina offices in Raleigh and Charlotte, and now an office in Nashville, TN.  Kim, an Indiana University journalism alumna and graduate of the Institute for Crisis Management (ICM), has consulted with hundreds of CEOs and top communications professionals from Fortune 500 companies before, during and after crisis situations. 

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