Crisis Management

A crisis is “an unpredictable major threat that can have a negative effect on the organization, industry, or stakeholders”[1] . Crisis management is “the process by which the organization manages a wider impact, such as media relations , and enables it to commence recovery”[2]. All organizations must recognize that they are vulnerable to crises, and therefore, must properly prepare for them[3] . By effectively preparing for a crisis, the crisis management team (CMT) can act quickly to prevent the crisis from fulfilling its disruptive potential[4] . The essence of crisis management is an ethical approach to the subject at hand[5] . Although a strong ethical environment will benefit an organization during normal business operations, it is essential during the management of a crisis[6] .


Ethical Considerations in Crisis Management

In the article Crisis Ethics, Thomas W. Christensen outlines a new crisis-management model by combining two models previously recorded by Pearson, & Mitroff (1993), and Fink (1986). Christensen’s model outlines a four-phased approach to crisis management, and highlights ethical connections to each phase. The four phases are as follows; pre-crisis, crisis, crisis recovery, and learning[7] .

It is critical to note that Christensen’s model illustrates how effective crisis management is achieved specifically through the application of virtue ethics leadership [8] . Christensen explains that virtue ethics combine the best parts of deontology and teleology , and this “multi-dimensional perspective allows circumnavigation of the ethical landscape, providing a very robust application to enable ethical crisis management”[9] .

“Leaders or crisis management teams (CMT) are charged with executing crisis management processes within ethical guidelines defined by government regulations ,laws , industry standards , company policy , and individual ethical standards[10] . Individual ethical standards are very important to consider when managing a crisis because they shape the ethical landscape of the organization’s corporate culture in which the CMT operates. Christensen espouses “as a minimum, the leader (or the CMT) establishes ethical crisis response with the observation of the virtues of community, excellence, role identity, integrity, and judgment”[11] .


Ethical Virtues Needed Within Crisis Management


The community (Communitarianism) virtue emphasizes the need to recognize the potential impact on the community as a whole during a crisis. “The community virtue is rich with support and motivation (not to let the others down), as well as recognition that the company fails and recovers as a company, not as individual departments”[12] . Community as a virtue is also essential to ensure learning exists across the entire organization.

“The excellence virtue drives the best performance possible in each phase of crisis management”[13] . The requirement for each contributor's absolute best effort can be the difference between successful crisis recovery and failure. The excellence virtue demands the community and the leader not settle for less than a perfect results during the four crisis-management phases.

“The role identity virtue relies on the multi-disciplined nature of the planning team to uphold their individual responsibilities to identify issues and solutions exercising their individual expertise”[14] . The role identity virtue must be included in crisis management because it properly aligns roles to generate maximum benefit.

“The integrity virtue demands the highest level of right behavior from the discovery or estimating phase of crisis identification through analysis and resolution determination”[15] . The virtue of integrity requires contributors to follow rules, and challenge them when the "do not feel right". Integrity exists when words and actions match.

The judgment virtue provides contributors with the appropriate course of action for issues that are unclear of their meaning and impact. Judgment “must be based on ethical deliberation and reasoning, which comes with experience, practice, and patience”[16] .


Best Practices in Crisis Communication


Ethics principles, such as those suggested by Christensen, cannot anticipate all ethical questions. They can however, “provide processes for ethical decision making”[17] . Below is a point form list of the 10 “Best Practices” (BP) in crisis communication as outlined by Robert L. Heath . When following Heath’s best practices, it is clear that participants must embody the virtues of community, excellence, role identity, integrity, and judgment in order to achieve them.

BP 1: Create process approaches and develop policies for communicating.
BP 2: Conduct pre-event planning.
BP 3: Create and maintain partnerships with the public.
BP 4: Listen for others’ concerns.
BP 5: Exhibit honesty, candor, and openness.
BP 6: Collaborate and coordinate with credible sources.
BP 7: Meet the needs of the media and remain accessible.
BP 8: Communicate with compassion, concern, and empathy.
BP 9: Accept uncertainty and ambiguity.
BP 10: Messages of self-efficacy.[18]
  1. ^ Coombs, W. T. (1999). Ongoing crisis communication : Planning, managing, and responding. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
  2. ^ Crisis management. (2009). Retrieved 11/07, 2009, from http://www.berr.gov.uk/whatwedo/sectors/infosec/infosecadvice/incidentmanagement/crisismanagement/page33391.html
  3. ^
    Heath, R. L. (Ed.). (2005). Encyclopedia of public relations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip0417/2004009256.html ;
  4. ^ 
Heath, R. L. (Ed.). (2005). Encyclopedia of public relations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip0417/2004009256.html ;
  5. ^ Internal ethics and the crisis communications machinery. (2009). Retrieved 11/07, 2009, from http://www.prnewsonline.com/legalpr/News_InternalEthics.html
  6. ^ Christensen, T. W. Crisis ethics. Retrieved 11/08, 2009, from http://www.midwestacademy.org/Proceedings/2006/papers/paper1.pdf
  7. ^ Christensen, T. W. Crisis ethics. Retrieved 11/08, 2009, from http://www.midwestacademy.org/Proceedings/2006/papers/paper1.pdf
  8. ^ Aronson, E. (2001). Integrating leadership styles and ethical perspectives. Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, Vol. 18(Issue 4), p244-13p.
  9. ^ Christensen, T. W. Crisis ethics. Retrieved 11/08, 2009, from http://www.midwestacademy.org/Proceedings/2006/papers/paper1.pdf
  10. ^ Christensen, T. W. Crisis ethics. Retrieved 11/08, 2009, from http://www.midwestacademy.org/Proceedings/2006/papers/paper1.pdf
  11. ^ Christensen, T. W. Crisis ethics. Retrieved 11/08, 2009, from http://www.midwestacademy.org/Proceedings/2006/papers/paper1.pdf
  12. ^ Christensen, T. W. Crisis ethics. Retrieved 11/08, 2009, from http://www.midwestacademy.org/Proceedings/2006/papers/paper1.pdf
  13. ^ Christensen, T. W. Crisis ethics. Retrieved 11/08, 2009, from http://www.midwestacademy.org/Proceedings/2006/papers/paper1.pdf
  14. ^ Christensen, T. W. Crisis ethics. Retrieved 11/08, 2009, from http://www.midwestacademy.org/Proceedings/2006/papers/paper1.pdf
  15. ^ Christensen, T. W. Crisis ethics. Retrieved 11/08, 2009, from http://www.midwestacademy.org/Proceedings/2006/papers/paper1.pdf
  16. ^ Christensen, T. W. Crisis ethics. Retrieved 11/08, 2009, from http://www.midwestacademy.org/Proceedings/2006/papers/paper1.pdf
  17. ^
    Christensen, S. L., & Kohls, J. (2003). Ethical decision making in times of organizational crisis. Business & Society, Vol. 42(Issue 3), p328-31p.
  18. ^ Heath, R. L. (2006). Best practices in crisis communication: Evolution of practice through research. Journal of Applied Communication Research, Vol. 34(Issue 3), p245-4p.