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How to spot an issue before it becomes a crisis

Posted on Mon 30th Oct, 2017 in: Advice, Crisis Communications, Issues Management by Katie Wadsworth

The internet has made information much more transparent than it once was, making a communications crisis much more likely to occur. Organisations are responding to this by becoming more and more switched on when it comes to crisis management. However, an area which perhaps is less explored is issues management. An issue is essentially a warning sign for a crisis and if properly managed you can lessen the impact of the impending crisis or even stop it from occurring all together.


A crisis shouldn’t be a surprise

While a crisis can be defined as untimely, if using best practice an organisation should rarely be describing a crisis as a total surprise.

Issues management involves the scanning, monitoring and, hopefully, resolving of issues.

When scanning and monitoring, factors of an economic, political, social and environmental nature should all be considered. Sources monitored could be anything from government legislation, the media to internal business decisions.

By doing this, issues can be monitored and dealt with before they become a crisis. And while a lot of them won’t actually come to anything, when one explodes you’ll be glad you knew about it.

Often an issue can be resolved with an action or a response, or it might just blow over on its own. If it doesn’t seem to be subsiding you can predict a timeline of when the issue might develop into a crisis and start working on a plan to deal with it.


Being ahead of a crisis

During a crisis, organisations that are proactive tend to fare better than those who are simply responsive. If you are aware of the issue before it becomes a crisis, this becomes much easier to do.

Even if you know about the crisis a short period of time before it hits the press, it still allows you to get a statement ready, meaning you can be on the ball with responding to the media. You can also prep spokespeople as well as inform relevant stakeholders internally and externally. Making sure employees hear about a crisis from the company rather than the media will go a long way in keeping staff motivated during a crisis.

Issues management can also be very cost effective. To compare it to healthcare, while pre-emptive care may cost more upfront, it tends to save money in the long term. Issues management is the same.

The earlier you know about an issue, the more options you have to deal with it. For example, you may be able to modify a product rather than having to do a full product recall. Or even if you have to do a full product recall, the earlier you know about it the fewer customers that will be directly affected.


So how do you manage issues?  

There are five basic steps to follow:

  1. Scanning – scanning information available to you, including media sources, to identify issues.
  2. Monitoring – this is keeping an eye on the issue, trying to determine if, how and when it might progress into a crisis.
  3. Planning – making plans and forming a strategy to deal with the potential crisis.
  4. Action – if the issue does indeed become a crisis, implementing your plan.
  5. Reflection – it is always essential to reflect on how you dealt with the issue and crisis so that you can improve your process.

Issues management should be continuous process. Issues appear and develop on a regular basis so it is crucial that you scan and monitor regularly for issues management to be effective.

Have a look at our post on crisis communications for the good, bad and the ugly as well as some tips to take away.

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