The Disabling Dozen (Part 2 of 2): Common Crisis Plan Impediments

I hope you enjoyed the first half of this list

Here is the sequel of common barriers to having a practical, actionable crisis plan. 

  1. Long Q&As.  My personal crusade against Q&A documents is based in practicality.  I rarely see them in action when the chips are down.  True, the person writing the Q&A benefits from the mental gymnastics of testing the fortitude of key messages.  Legal teams like the idea of Q&As because every word can be parsed for potential liability.  I’ll even agree that call centers may benefit from answers to tough customer questions (although I suspect verbatim replies will further frustrate the caller).  Yet – I know no spokesperson with total recall of the perfect A for each Q.  Instead, it may provide better results to provide a list of tough “peripheral vision” Q’s with strong set of key messages and ask the spokesperson to connect the two through rehearsal.
  2. Swiss-cheese templates.  A fill-in-the-blank template approach – where the majority of content is preordained – suffers from the same delusion as #6 in my previous post:  it’s impossible to predict the nuance of every crisis situation.  Therefore, most of these templates require such dramatic rewrites that they’re inefficient.  It’s better to provide a basic structure of key messages and perhaps broad templates (¼ of the content needed?) for press releases, fact sheets, timelines, backgrounders, and related tools.
  3. Long contact lists baked into the plan.  Let me make clear that every crisis manager must have access a current list with primary, secondary and tertiary contacts.  In my experience, the list is better served when it lives nearby, but outside of the plan.  It makes the overall plan less clunky.  Better idea:  make the contact list an appendix and have it made available electronically.  Since people who maintain crisis plans are often removed from those aware of staff changes and contact-list updates, it may be better yet to create a subset of an existing and regularly updated directory.  Best option:  consider integrating your contact list into a notification system (e.g., send word now, MissionMode) and schedule regular updates. 
  4. Binderism.  Hopefully, some of the previous tips will help strip a plan down to its most useful foundation, thereby avoiding a hernia-producing binder.  But page-length is not the main point here.  There are infinite and secure digital tools available now that help ensure access to plan materials whenever and wherever needed.  Yes, this is obvious, yet very few companies move beyond the clichéd dust-collecting binder on the shelf.
  5. Rust.  The bad news is that crisis plans perpetually grow out-of-date from the second they’re published.  Annual updates may be late to keep pace with the speed of change businesses face today.  Here’s the good news.  If a plan is constructed with a modular foundation, it should take only a few minutes a month to keep plans relevant.  Assign a Plan Master to make sure plan goals and content is updated regularly.  A Plan Administrator can also make more process updates and hold the Plan Master to deadlines.
  6. The plan mandate.  This last impediment isn’t focused on the plan itself, but rather in how it is introduced and shared with core and support teams.  Rather than distributing a plan and mandating allegiance, it is better to solicit constant feedback.  This helps to ensure better adoption and comprehension of the plan.  A residual effect is that teams will be thinking about crisis management more actively, which improves the organization’s overall capability.

So endeth the disabling dozen.

What do you think?  Have I missed any?  Feel free to comment, question or challenge this list in the comments below.

Update (Mar. 16):  These articles were also posted on

13 thoughts on “The Disabling Dozen (Part 2 of 2): Common Crisis Plan Impediments”

  1. Excellent list, J.D. The 2 items that particularly resonate with me are the mandate and rust. We struggle with those 2 every day. The natural resistance that comes from a mandatory program naturally leads to a program that isn't consistently maintained. Thanks for the great post!

  2. JD,
    A big salute to your campaign against crisis plan complexity. Two ideas — take your existing plan and vow to cut it down by 75 percent. And if you simplify operations into a diagram, it will probably be the one page that gets used.
    Bob Page

  3. Hi J.D.,
    Re #12, Mandate: otherwise known as “Life or Death by STYLE!” From my experience as an operations improvement consultant for a “Bid 4” I have seen this breed contempt which is a guarantee of failure. Executive management needs to believe their employees are competent in their respective business areas. I have gone so far as to point this out to my clients who never intended to convey this perception. I generally ask them if they were to inquire of their managers over the business units in the company how would each address the sustainability issue, they might get a simpler and more effective plan for recovery. Once tried, they were amazed and learned the lesson of how to communicate with the workers in the trenches. I always try to produce potential for employee satisfaction when making recommendations because nothing can get done without each employee giving their all after a catastrophe. Therefore, management’s style of communication can make or break the best of plans. I think your observation is superb.
    Best regards,

  4. After more than 25 years on the editorial side of things, I recently became the first-ever Manager of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery at our large, worldwide news agency. Every one of your Crisis Communications Impediments also relates to my BC/DR planning.

    Most important, in my case, is the use of bullet-points and a "if this happens, do this" format. For years, our plans were written by people who earn their living writing. The plans told great stories but would have been nearly useless if the s— ever hit the fan.

    Bullet-points and KISS plans are my mantra.

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