It was a Saturday night Angelo Camillo will never forget. He was the manager on duty at the Intercontinental Hotel in London when smoke began to fill the building at every corner. It was a busy night, the rooms were packed and there was a wedding reception in the ballroom.
Fortunately for Camillo and his team, a plan had been developed for moments just like this.
“Although panic started, I and other members of the management team managed to deal with the situation because we had a plan and we were well-trained in this kind of crisis,” says Camillo, associate professor of management with the School of Business at Woodbury University.
Guests were evacuated and accounted for, a spokesperson was designated to communicate with the fire department and everything was logged for insurance claim purposes.
“The most important thing we learned was to raise awareness and to be even better trained for the next crisis,” Camillo says.
The flow of information by way of communication from those in charge to the people in the center of a crisis is essential to your ability to get through it effectively.
Smart Business spoke with Camillo about what you can do to get prepared for a crisis in your organization.
How can you ensure your business is ready for anything that might happen?
You have a risk assessment plan before you develop a crisis plan. There is no company without risk. If you take a hotel, from the moment a guest walks into the hotel, you are vulnerable until the guest leaves. Anything can happen and it’s impossible to prepare for every scenario, whether it’s a hotel or a business. Most crises happen unexpectedly and they may never end exactly as you expect.
In addition, things change constantly so something that wasn’t an issue in the past may now be a potential hazard that you need to address.
So what can you do? Start by implementing regular training and retraining programs that are as comprehensive as you can make them. Perform scenarios of possible crises that could occur and train people in the steps that would need to be taken to get through it. Meet afterward to review the session and talk about what was learned and what you still need to work on.
If a real problem does occur, use what happened as a training tool to accomplish the same goals.
Before you can communicate appropriately in a crisis, you need your team to be clear about the roles they’ll need to perform. So these steps are a must in any crisis communication plan.
How do you determine communication roles in a crisis?
Your HR department deals with a number of training sessions on things such as sexual harassment, communication between departments and solving problems. So that would be a good place to start to build your communications team.
Define a team that is able to communicate and has the skills to do it. Make sure they have the skills to lead others and can work well in crisis mode. One of the biggest problems in a crisis is that people panic. Panic can be managed more easily when your leaders speak with confidence and demonstrate that they have control of the situation.
Quoting an excerpt from research I have conducted and published, communication can be interpreted as ‘the skill to communicate activities and messages to stimulate an anticipated reaction in a specific situation.’ Specifically, competent management needs to master the art of interaction and apply it efficiently with the people and the environment, and at the same time, fulfill its own communication goals using this capability.
What is the biggest mistake you can make in dealing with a crisis?
Thinking it will never happen to you. There have been enough incidents of credit card hackers and security breaches that no organization is immune from being the victim of an attack or of an unexpected situation. You need to develop and implement communication policies and procedures and have continuous training in place for all stakeholders. ●
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