How to secure executive buy-in for crisis planning

It’s all too easy for crisis planning to remain stubbornly in the category of important, but not urgent, especially without the active engagement of your leadership team. Here are my tried and trusted strategies to secure their support.

 1. Highlight the problem
A reputational risk assessment can open your team’s eyes to the range of risks they face. Equally, a scenario planning workshop requires executives to identify gaps in your ability to respond – whether resources or capability – and can act as the precursor to a bigger programme of crisis preparedness.

 2. Communicate the broader benefits
Managing information, dealing with uncertainty, communicating clearly, leadership, teamwork and decision making are all capabilities that are developed under pressure through crisis exercises. The fact they are trained and rehearsed in a pressurised environment means these critical skills are deeply embedded and can also be deployed during business as usual.

 3. Demonstrate the cost of failure
In the four months after Volkswagen’s emissions scandal broke, its value fell by a third. Six months after its data breach in 2017, Equifax’s shares were 15% down. But the cost of crisis goes way beyond financial value and includes injury or even loss of life, redundancies, legal consequences, fines, reputational damage and difficulty in recruiting staff. Focusing your leadership team’s attention on the many costs of crisis can be a powerful way of motivating them to act.

 4. Use external events as a catalyst for action
Use external issues such as Covid-19 and cybercrime as a catalyst for crisis management planning and training. Equally, a competitor crisis provides a spur to redouble your organisation’s commitment to crisis management. When a crisis is close to home, a realisation often dawns that ‘it could have been us’.

 5. View near misses as an opportunity to improve
Organisations sometimes avoid a full-scale crisis by the skin of their teeth. Before a return to business as usual, make the most of this window of opportunity to engage your leadership team and secure their commitment to prepare for future incidents.

 6. Build alliances with like-minded colleagues
Build relationships with colleagues in risk management, health and safety, security, legal and business continuity and work together to extol the benefits of crisis management. Presenting a united front can add credibility and a broader focus to your discussions with senior leaders.

 7. Enlist trusted third parties
Use third parties trusted by your leadership team to communicate the value and importance of crisis management planning and training. Influential colleagues, advisors and non-executive directors – especially those who have endured crises of their own – can be particularly powerful advocates for a crisis management planning programme.

 8. Make it personal
When a crisis occurs, executive reputation and credibility are in serious jeopardy. Getting your senior colleagues to focus on that fact can be motivating in ensuring they commit to crisis management planning.

 9 .Walk the talk
If securing the full engagement of your leadership team remains a challenge, act as a role model within your own area. Train your spokespeople, draft template holding statements, run best practice sessions for your team and organise your own mini exercises.

 Building a crisis resistant culture

Crises are most likely to be prevented or handled well if a crisis-resistant culture is deeply embedded within the organisation. This is dependent upon the active involvement and support of your senior team. Deploying some of the strategies outlined above will help to secure their commitment. 

Written by Jonathan Hemus, managing director of specialist crisis management consultancy Insignia and author of Crisis Proof: How to prepare for the worst day of your business life

If you're interested in crisis communications management, why not register for this free webinar on Scale, speed and complexity: How COVID has changed crisis communications.