As we’ve all learnt from Covid-19, crisis can hit any business at any time. But it’s how we respond to it that determines the outcome and how we’re perceived. 

If leaders have the ability to keep cool, minimise risk, make measured and well thought-out decisions, then our businesses have a better chance at surviving, and ultimately, setting a good example for managing change.  

So, how can you lead effectively in a crisis? 

  1. Get your facts right. 
    Your first task is to gather all the facts. You should speak to your team and let them know that you’re aware of the issue, that you’re engaged and open to any possibilities or solutions. Make it clear that you are encouraging open communication and a ‘speak up’ culture. Draw on all available resources to perform a thorough, credible and coordinated investigation. Analyse all the allegations and gather your facts together to build a better profile of where the issues lie. 

  2. Don’t bury your head in the sand.  
    Don’t put profits or short-term priorities ahead of dealing with a crisis. Prioritise correctly, and evaluate the situation head-on. This sends a positive message to your team members, and gives them confidence that you have everything under control, preventing panic. 

  3. Build a team of overseers. 
    Establish a committee or group to manage the crisis and the response to it. Try to include people from different departments in order to gain a variety of perspectives such as finance, legal, PR or operations. By working collaboratively across functional lines, you’ll give yourself the best chance of getting to the bottom of things quickly. Discuss your options with the team and prepare a report. 

  4. Report back to the senior team. 
    Provide a well-rounded report to your senior team, detailing all the facts. Confirm that they are on board, and support the process.  It’s key they can stay calm and make balanced decisions based upon the facts whilst considering integrity and  ethical factors. 

  5. Never speculate. 
    Relay information back to the wider team, communicating only the facts. Never speculate or show your emotions when discussing the details of a crisis. Remain calm and collected, and give the clearest overview possible. The company will need to remain transparent to keep the flow of communication going. Ensure that your team is aware of any limits to what can be revealed publicly. Inform staff that while daily business continues, the investigation takes precedence and their full cooperation will be expected.

  6. Provide a roadmap. 
    Don’t just leave people wondering – reassure your teams by providing a plan. Let them know they are in safe hands and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Fact-finding will provide a clear plan for remediation. A clear strategic plan for reform and recovery will be needed to strengthen the organisations structures, and to prioritise tasks effectively.  

  7. Reassure key stakeholders. 
    It’s time to rebuild trust, confidence and goodwill with your stakeholders. Assure them that they will receive periodic updates on issues that directly concern them – include information on any investigative findings and planned remedial actions. This will instil them with confidence that you have everything under control. Assign a member of the team to manage this process.  

  8. Never let a crisis go to waste – use it as a platform for change. 
    Once you’ve dealt with the most pressing matters, it’s time to think about how you can prevent a similar crisis from happening again.  

    Suitable policies, processes and systems should be introduced to detect, prevent and respond to these issues. Business models and practices may need a risk-focussed review. Leaders will need to call on employees to help define a new vision and how to put it in practice. It’s important to make sure you do not dictate or lecture your teams.  

    Adjust your tone to be one of contrition, openness and a commitment to real change and safer business practices. Doing so will help you to build a stronger company strategy, whilst reassuring your teams that they are in safe hands. 

To recap… 

A willingness to self-correct, rather than fight to retain the status quo will determine whether a crisis becomes a long drawn-out process or if it becomes a catalyst for change. If you keep a cool head, investigate thoroughly and mitigate risks, you’ll navigate the choppy waters very easily.  

José Hernandez is the chief executive of Ortus Strategies and author of the new book ‘Broken Business: Seven Steps to Reform Good Companies Gone Bad’. 


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