The best form of crisis management, of course, is crisis prevention. Take steps now to avoid problems that can become a crisis if poorly handled.
A crisis audit should include careful inspection of places and processes that could be subject to tragic failure (A facility fire ... a faulty manufacturing process leading to an unsafe product, etc.), but don't overlook people. The standards a company sets for fair treatment for all employees, and the way it ensures these standards are upheld, are crucial for avoiding a crisis from within.
Prime example: With thousands of veterans returning to civilian life from active combat duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, companies need to ensure steps are consistently taken to onboard veterans as employees in caring and sensitive ways. Companies hiring (or welcoming back) veterans rightly enhance their status as responsible employers, and, for their part, military vets often make exemplary employees. But supervisors should be trained to be sensitive to the often hidden specter of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Surely no supervisor at your company could be so insensitive as to deny a leave of absence to an employee suffering from PTSD--and instead give her a more stressful assignment and eventually have her incarcerated by a police psych unit, right? That's exactly what happened to Kay Morris-Robertson, an executive employed by Westfield Holdings, a multi-billion-dollar company operating shopping malls on three continents.
Jonathan Bernstein recounts Morris-Robertson's harrowing story in an article in Crisis Manager titled "Employer Mishandling of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder -- A Preventable Crisis:"
The police arrived and Morris-Robertson was taken off and detained in the Los Angeles psych unit. There she encountered various individuals suffering from mental illness, drug withdrawal, and any number of other stressful situations - the last thing to which someone with PTSD should be subjected.
Morris-Robertson's PTSD did not stem from military conflict but from the emotionally wrenching experience of having her husband die in her arms after he suffered a heart attack while the two were out in a sailboat together. She tried to get away from the pain by throwing herself into her work, but the heartache festered inside her until she became distraught. The callous way she was then treated by her employer caused further harm.
And now the company must deal with her lawsuit along with the unwelcome media attention it is generating. Even more importantly, the culture at Westfield has been shaken and employees at all levels must wonder what kind of company they work for. This calls for a sincere "teaching moment" for Westfield's CEO to make it clear that the behavior Morris-Robertson endured was an aberration and will not be repeated. He must demonstrate senior management's commitment to ensure that the work environment at Westfield is not just free of hostility but genuinely nurturing. And he must understand that winning back employee trust will not be easy and it will not come soon.