Future Proofing Your Organization to Avoid Crisis after Crisis: A WIPL 2023 Session Recap
As a legal leader, it can often feel that one crisis follows another in rapid succession. While leaders work to hone their skills in effectively managing these situations, it’s imperative to adopt a proactive stance aimed at averting future crises rather than solely relying on the quality of their response when the inevitable occurs.
During this year’s Women, Influence & Power in Law (WIPL) Conference, I had the pleasure of attending a session titled, “How Many Fires are Too Many Fires? Future Proofing Your Organization to Avoid Crisis after Crisis.” This expert panel, comprised of in-house counsel, outside counsel, and our own CEO & General Counsel, crisis communications expert Gina Rubel. Together, the panel discussed strategies for leaders to incorporate to enable their teams to stay one step ahead of impending crises. While the future remains inherently unpredictable, the insights and tools shared during this session empowered legal leaders to shift their focus toward efforts in anticipation and mitigation, ultimately leading to more resilient and crisis-ready organizations.
In the end, the panelists agreed that there is no such thing as future-proofing your company from a crisis. However, as a legal leader, you can be better prepared to manage your corporate reputation by incorporating these key takeaways.
Ask who, what, when, where and why (and answer why first).
The key to effective preparedness lies in asking a series of fundamental questions: who, what, when, where, and why. It is crucial to prioritize the “why” question above all others. Understanding the underlying motivations and potential triggers for a crisis is paramount, as it provides the strategic foundation upon which all subsequent crisis planning decisions should be built. Once the “why” is answered, the answers to the remaining questions become powerful instruments for devising a comprehensive crisis management strategy that not only reacts to adversity but also proactively safeguards the organization’s integrity and resilience.
Identify the right team and spokespersons for your crisis (hint: your PR agency is not your spokesperson).
In crisis management, selecting the right team and spokesperson is a mission-critical endeavor. The emphasis should be on identifying individuals within your organization who possess the most relevant expertise, firsthand knowledge, and unwavering commitment to your brand’s reputation.
Choosing the right team members who intimately understand the intricacies of your business and the specifics of the crisis at hand is the initial and foremost priority. Once this team is in place, selecting the appropriate spokespersons from within your organization becomes a strategic decision that can effectively communicate your message and maintain the trust of your stakeholders during challenging times.
“The choice of a spokesperson for your organization is not just a matter of delivering a message; it’s a strategic decision that can either amplify or mitigate the issue at hand,” Gina Rubel.
Determine if it is an incident or a crisis.
Distinguishing between an incident and a crisis is essential in effectively managing and communicating about adverse situations, especially within an organization. An incident typically refers to a singular, often minor, and manageable event that might disrupt regular operations but doesn’t pose a significant threat to the overall well-being of the organization.
“In the case of an incident, use that language with your teams to eliminate unnecessary stress and to avoid panic.” Gina Rubel
A crisis, on the other hand, is a more severe, wide-ranging, and potentially reputation-damaging event that demands immediate and coordinated action. In the case of a crisis, it is important to use language that accurately reflects the nature and severity of the situation.
In either case, using precise terminology ensures that the appropriate resources and response levels are mobilized, facilitating a more efficient and effective approach to addressing the issue at hand. In the world of crisis management, choosing the right words is an integral component of a successful strategy.
Leverage outside counsel.
The importance of drawing upon an external expertise to strengthen your organization’s position cannot be overstated. When facing critical decisions or navigating sensitive issues, the input of seasoned legal professionals can provide an invaluable layer of assurance and credibility. Outside counsel can serve as a crucial sounding board to ensure that the information disseminated to your internal stakeholders is accurate, legally sound, and strategically aligned with your organization’s goals. This strategic partnership with outside counsel can be a proactive step in mitigating potential risks and bolstering the confidence of your internal stakeholders, ultimately contributing to more effective communication in the face of challenges.
“Strategically and intentionally leverage outside counsel to validate key points that need to be communicated to internal stakeholders. Realize that some points may be absorbed more effectively when communicated or repeated by outside counsel.” Andowah Newton, Former VP, Legal Affairs & Head of Litigation, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton
If you think you’ve never handled a crisis, think again.
As we all reflect on our collective experience with the global COVID-19 pandemic, it’s evident that this unprecedented event served as a catalyst for learning and growth across every organization. This unfortunate occurrence underscored the critical importance of being proactive and adaptive in our crisis response strategies. The panelists observed that if your organization has not yet conducted a thorough debriefing and updated its crisis response plan in light of the pandemic’s lessons, the time for doing so is now. Prior to 2020, many companies lacked pandemic response plans, but now, an increasing number have recognized the necessity of such preparedness. While it’s impossible to anticipate every conceivable scenario, having a robust crisis plan in place equips your organization with the ability to act swiftly and decisively, preventing the loss of precious time and resources on imperative crisis discussions during the heat of the moment.