Despite an organization’s best efforts, accidents happen and difficult issues arise. If they are handled well, the organization can demonstrate that it is responsible, caring and competent. If they are mishandled, the organization can be perceived as inept, callous or arrogant.

Savvy, 21st century crisis management involves a number of components. Among them: having a crisis management plan, a crisis management team, and a crisis management center (today, most centers are virtual). Crisis management best practices also include being prepared to provide different kinds of assistance to people impacted by a crisis, and of course, conducting drills and simulations.

Another component – one that frequently is ignored or given short shrift – is the post-crisis review – sometimes known as a “post- mortem” or debriefing. It’s easy to understand why companies want to move on after a crisis – especially one that was prevented or handled well. They have other work to do. Or, managing the crisis required substantial time, effort and resources, so the last thing the company wants is to revisit the nightmare. But the crisis management process doesn’t end once the problem has been resolved. Here are some best practices to follow when conducting a post-crisis review.

Steps to Take After a Crisis

  • Make the review a standard, mandatory part of your crisis management efforts. Let team members and any others involved in managing the crisis know that you plan to seek their input when the crisis has passed. That way, they can begin to record their observations during the event.
  • Timing is critical. Hold the review “after the smoke has cleared.” Many organizations wait a week or two. This gives your team an opportunity to reflect on what happened and gain perspective. It also allows you to see if any crisis-related developments surface shortly after the event (e.g., community outrage, sustained media coverage, etc.).
  • Participants in the review should include all members of your crisis management team and any “seconds” to those individuals, appropriate executives (even if they weren’t on the team), and any others who contributed to managing the crisis. Reviews can be opportunities to observe and learn and for team-building. Top executive participation is especially important. If your leadership is too busy to attend, think of the message that sends out to others in the company.
  • Allow enough time for a meaningful review. For example, arbitrarily allotting thirty minutes for the meeting might be a mistake. Depending on the nature of the crisis and scope of the response, you might need several hours.
  • Cultivate good will. Thank everyone in the organization who participated in managing the crisis. And don’t forget those outside your organization, such as emergency responders, government officials, etc. Reach out to them as well.
  • Agendas for these reviews will vary, but generally here are the elements worth focusing on:
  1. Briefly review the event or issue, along with the key developments that accompanied it.
  2. Examine whether the crisis was preventable. Was there anything that could have or should have been done differently (e.g., operational, technological, procedural, etc.)?
  3. Evaluate the team’s performance in managing the crisis. That involves looking at the two inseparable aspects of most crises – operations and communications. For example, did the team follow established procedures as outlined in the company’s crisis management plan? No finger pointing – just a candid assessment of what worked and what didn’t work.
  4. Identify the changes (e.g., in policies, procedures, plans, etc.) that should be made. In other words, what should the company stop, start or continue doing? Establish timelines for their implementation.
  • Consider restitution. Identify what actions, if any, may be required to help you regain public trust. For example, should you seek public input? Should you hold a public meeting? Is it appropriate to donate to a particular cause or organization? Etc.
  • For a period of time, monitor whether anything is being said about your company in the media – both traditional news and new media.
  • Prepare a written report or summary of the key findings. Distribute that document to everyone who participated in the review, as well as to any other appropriate individuals.

Post-crisis reviews have their roots in debriefings which originated in the military as a way to learn from a mission and to correct mistakes or make adjustments to a plan. Both are structured learning processes that lead to better performance. And that’s important not only in the military, but also in business.

Want to learn more about how to handle crisis communications – and their aftermath? Get in touch with us online, or at 281.240.2026. For more information, get our free ebook to learn the 5 Stages of Crisis Communications.