Considering today’s market dynamics, any company can find itself in an economically turbulent situation. After all, taking risks is part of doing business to a certain extent. However, if control is lost in critical circumstances, a dicey situation can quickly develop into a real crisis.
In order to keep control even in exceptional situations, the crisis team needs more than just a crisis manual. Specific know how, tangible skills and a good dose of experience and routine are essential to successfully manage crisis situations. Crisis trainings help to create these valuable conditions in your company. It prepares your team for an emergency and uncovers weaknesses that can quickly become a danger in a real crisis. Through individually tailored crisis trainings, experience and competence are acquired in a protected environment, resulting in confidence in high-risk situations.
Find out what crisis management training is, what it involves and why you should carry out such a training on a regular basis.
A crisis management training is used to prepare companies or institutions for potential crisis. Depending on your needs, the resources available and the stage of development of your crisis management, various exercise formats are suitable. In preparation for a crisis training, strategic objectives are set, the exercise scenario and its contents are developed individually, important framework conditions are clarified, and the practical transfer is ensured.
When conducting the training, the team is usually put in the situation of a realistic crisis scenario. The scenario is then carried out realistically in the crisis team, as if it were actually happening. Crisis management trainings can be large-scale and involve the entire company. Alternatively, they can take place in individual departments. For example, a specific crisis communication exercise can be conducted in the communications department. If it is a designated crisis management exercise, the cooperation in the crisis team with all its members is to be tested.
An important aspect of the exercise is the objective observation of the process by an (external) supervisor. If necessary, they can intervene or give impulses. This is followed by a feedback session regarding the course of the exercise and the crisis management. A final exchange and evaluation of the crisis training enables the acquired skills and knowledge to be called upon and implemented in a potential emergency.
Crisis management training opens up two major opportunities: On the one hand, the training can create experience and routine to enable more security in exceptional situations. This helps your crisis team to keep a cool head in an extreme situation and to act confidently and adequately even under enormous pressure. This not only generates general experience in dealing with crises.
The cooperation in the crisis team is also better coordinated and the work with existing crisis manuals is practiced. This ensures smooth processes and close teamwork. This is especially important because crisis team members usually come from different departments, set different priorities and approach acute situations in different ways.
On the other hand, a crisis exercise can reveal gaps in your crisis management. These can be examined more closely afterwards and filled in for the future. In this way, a crisis team exercise also opens up optimization possibilities for your crisis management by subjecting not only team members, but also processes, structures and prepared measures to a stress test.
The goals of a crisis management training can be general or individual. In general, the acquisition of comparable experience values and routine as well as the optimization of crisis management processes represent an overriding goal. Furthermore, you can also set company-specific goals for the crisis team practice. For example, if you know that reporting chains often do not work for you, the exercises can focus on this. If you want to test your social media crisis communication in particular, the focus of the training can also be on this issue. Your individual objectives can therefore be as different as crises themselves. However, it is important to determine in advance what you want to achieve with a planned crisis exercise and where the focus should be. Only in this way can you maximize the learning effect.
Ultimately, however, every crisis exercise must also pursue the goal of being able to safely transfer the knowledge gained into practice. Not even the best training in the world will have an effect if the contents of the simulated exercise environment are not implemented in reality. For this reason, every training should be carried out as close as possible to the real situation.
According to the Digital News Report 2019 by Reuters, one third of Germans get their news from social media. This shows that digital networks are now one of the main points of contact for information gathering. In a company crisis, social media therefore also play a decisive role: if a company is in a crisis situation, an uncontrollable flow of information can spread rapidly via Facebook, Instagram and Co. Once a certain dynamic has been reached, it is almost impossible to track relevant content and react to it. Social channels are also often used to exchange and spread rumours or speculations.
Furthermore, a crisis in itself always represents a major threat to a company’s reputation. This threat is significantly increased by social media. Even physical crises such as accidents quickly find their way into the social media and are heatedly discussed there. This means that, in principle, every crisis can also become a social media crisis. Social networks can therefore be a dangerous driver of crises if they are channelled to spread information and speculation.
At the same time, crises today can also take place mainly digitally. A digital crisis does not wander from the analogue to the digital world, but arises and spreads exactly there. There are many possible causes: a negative review on a social media channel, online criticism on a website or the digital publication of alleged accusations against a company. It is well known that the inhibition threshold of many people is much lower in the online environment than in the analogue context.
As soon as negative content is posted, other users quickly jump on the bandwagon. They may have had a similar negative experience and want to share it too, or so-called trolls may join in. They are particularly dangerous because this type of user is not interested in personal relevance, but only in provocation and hostility. A social media crisis can develop within a very short time and requires comprehensive know-how to be recovered without major damage.
Especially in the case of a digital crisis situation, such as confrontation with a shitstorm, studies show that the greatest damage occurs within 24 hours. In such a case, there is little time to activate crisis management. For these and many other reasons, social media should nowadays be a serious part of a crisis exercise.
Crisis training is usually conducted in cooperation with an external partner such as PREVENCY®. The objectives of the exercise as well as a crisis scenario to be played out in the training are defined in joint consultation. The scenario should be selected specifically for the company and can range from a product recall to a data scandal to a reputational attack. In the next step, a script for the training is drawn up with a view to the defined goals of the crisis exercise. This contains precise instructions for the course of the exercise. If, for example, calls from journalists, customer service enquiries or a social media shitstorm are to be simulated during the simulation, the exact procedure is recorded in the script.
On the day of the training, the scenario is then acted out by the crisis team. As a rule, the crisis team does not know the scenario beforehand – because even real crises usually come as a surprise. Afterwards, the crisis exercise is evaluated, weaknesses in the procedure are identified and a joint discussion is held on how these can be improved in the future.
If social media should play a role in the crisis simulation, it is often implemented in an analogue way. In many companies, the Post-Its methodology has become established: social media postings are written “in real time” with the help of sticky notes and pasted on a surface to recreate the proceedings of a crisis event in digital networks. However, this technique has little to do with the realistic dynamics of a social media crisis. It is delayed and thus does not put enough pressure on the participants to reproduce a real crisis. As a result, neither transfer learning can be achieved nor can the correct handling in the digital environment be trained.
A far more suitable option is an IT-supported social media simulation. Specially developed tools, for example, simulate common social media platforms to create a real environment. This enables the social media team to practically train crisis communication in a protected environment. Thus, the crisis team not only has to design strategies and measures, but also implement them directly and deal appropriately with the immediate reaction – e.g. the simulated online community. While the crisis team tries to master the crisis under real conditions, it is observed by an external employee. This person documents the work of the staff, notes strengths and weaknesses. The documentation forms the basis for a catchy evaluation at the end of the crisis team training exercise.
In order to maximize the benefits of a crisis exercise, you should analyze the exercise in detail after the event. In doing so, you should ask yourself questions such as…
Ask these questions to all participants of the crisis team practice and discuss the answers in the team if necessary. In addition, ask your external partner to evaluate and advise you. Detailed feedback from an external perspective on crisis management and the team’s interaction can reveal weaknesses and the need for optimization. Record your results in the crisis manual. After the evaluation, weaknesses should be corrected – if necessary – e.g., by adapting structures, processes or responsibilities.
If the objective of the crisis exercise is to train an incident in social media, further steps should be taken afterwards. This includes, for example, setting up a social media guideline. Such a concept primarily serves to determine who in the company is allowed to communicate with which messages and where. It gives employees both an orientation aid within the framework of corporate communication and recommendations for their private engagement in social networks. A social media guideline is usually accompanied by concrete posting and community guidelines, which should also be developed after a crisis exercise. Established guidelines minimize the risk of legal issues and help protect the company by outlining and explaining potential risks.
Finally, it is also advisable to implement social media monitoring, due to the dynamic nature and reach across multiple channels. It helps to monitor all mentions of a company in the digital environment and to react quickly if necessary. This tool automatically tracks all mentions and keywords of a company, categorizes them and maps the relevant sentiment on the internet.
After all, a crisis management training in the company is not enough. Structures, attitudes and responsibilities can change quickly in companies. We therefore recommend that crisis trainings should be carried out at regular intervals. Similar to the crisis manual, your crisis team should also be updated once a year – and that works best with a targeted crisis simulation.
Would you like to stress test your crisis management? We will be happy to help you!
Better safe than sorry.
Meyer, C. & et al. (2004), Früherkennung und Überwindung von Unternehmenskrisen