Investing in the development of an issue and crisis management program is a lot like deciding to purchase an insurance policy. It’s an up-front commitment of time and resources, but it can make a world of difference when you need it.

We encourage our clients to maintain a solid strategy, protocols, and blueprint for action to ensure preparedness in almost any situation. A good acronym for beginning to lay out an issue management program is S.A.F.E.

See the issue clearly: An open mind is critical when considering all of the potential issues that may, or may not, bubble up to impact the company. An axiom in issue management theory states that every issue will not evolve into a crisis and every crisis does not begin as an issue. There are a multitude of internal and external factors to consider. Just because an issue is not a problem today, doesn’t mean it won’t become one tomorrow.

Assess the company’s position: Decide where the company stands relative to each issue and clearly and concisely develop an official position statement. Designate the internal and/or external subject matter experts who can help educate the organization’s leadership. This will eliminate ambiguity under duress.

Formulate the company’s response: Using the company’s position statement as the backbone, begin crafting support documents such as Q&As, backgrounders, and/or a standby statement. Ensure all internal and external spokespeople have access to this material to guarantee message continuity. During times of crisis, it’s imperative the company speak with one voice from the same script. Finally, establish two-way communication protocols for rapidly triaging information coming in and moving throughout the organization.

Evaluate the outcome: Learn from each issue that arises. Was the company’s response sufficient? What worked, what didn’t? Use key learnings to improve the process and establish best practices.

Issue and crisis management is a dynamic process. Once established, the program should not be filed away and remain static or worse, forgotten. The entire systemic approach to dealing with an issue or crisis should be re-examined on an annual basis minimally. Periodic war games should be executed to simulate various crisis situations (from bad to worse) and re-evaluate the action steps necessary to manage them.

By keeping everyone’s skills and thought processes sharp, an organization can best manage an issue or crisis from a proactive stance when, not if, it occurs. Play it S.A.F.E.!

– Robert Murphy

thought leadership


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