Four steps to prevent an issue from becoming a crisis

Organizations deal with issues every day – it’s just part of doing business. But the risk every organization faces is that, if left unchecked, a serious issue can quickly turn into a crisis and cause real harm to a business.  Protecting against this requires being continually mindful of the issues that you face, but it also depends on knowing the difference between an issue and a crisis, and proactively developing and implementing plans to prevent the one from turning into the other.

An issue is an event, trend, incident or activity that can threaten a company’s brand reputation or business operations. Unlike a crisis, an issue arises in the natural course of daily business; it is a day-to-day challenge, either internally or industry-wide, which can evolve into a crisis if not properly dealt with.

Issues must be constantly managed, as they can erode corporate reputation over time if not handled properly. In extreme cases, they can even lead to emergencies that threaten the existence of an organization.

A crisis poses a clear and present danger to a company’s brand and operations. Crises are sudden incidents or situations which shock the corporate system and suspend ‘business as usual’ activities. They require an immediate and credible response. Failure to do so can harm clients or customers; do damage to company property or the environment; and disrupt business operations; as a result, they negatively affect corporate reputation – if not dealt with, potentially beyond the point of return.

Here are four things you can do today to ensure you’re keeping an eye on issues your company may be facing:

  1. Develop a register of potential issues through regular brainstorming, forecasting and information sharing.
  2. Ensure a cross-functional approach to issues forecasting and management so issues do not grow unchecked below the corporate radar. Don’t let issues fester within silos in an organization. Share information.
  3. Create a clear monitoring and escalation process so issues are dealt with in a timely manner.
  4. Maintain perspective: if there is a robust issues management system in place, most issues can be dealt with at a lower level in the organization, which will foster a proactive approach throughout the company.

There are a number of relatively simple approaches to issues management that corporations in any sector, whether they be small enterprises, local government, or international companies with widespread operations, can e swiftly implement.  The key for any enterprise is to spend the time in advance on forecasting so issues can be managed down, rather than letting them evolve into a crises.

Proactive issues management is a core part of how a company can manage its reputation.  It is ‘money in the reputational bank’ that can be drawn upon when needed and protect a company in its toughest public moments.  Building a reputation back up after a crisis is far more costly than building a system that anticipates the majority of issues and deals with them well before they escalate.  In today’s world of social media, we have seen all too often just how quickly the seemingly innocuous can become a firestorm.

A clear, sustained approach to issues management will help companies avoid the crippling effect that a crisis can have on business activities and public perception. Moreover, such an approach can help to build that reputational capital which is so important for circumstances when the unavoidable occurs.

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