A runner in starting blocks

Mobilization: How to be fast off the blocks in a crisis

April 3, 2022

Mobilization simply means getting the right people in the right place with the right information to allow them to start managing the event taking place. 

The term ‘mobilization’ can sound very operational and, therefore, a little out of place in a communications environment, but that’s the point. It’s meant to convey a sense of purpose and deliberateness that’s missing from a regular meeting.

And that’s because even something as seemingly straightforward as setting up a meeting is more challenging in a crisis: you need more than simply sending a Zoom link or yelling ‘everyone into conference room 5’.

First, you need the right people in the room immediately. If you have the wrong people in the room, you won’t be able to make any meaningful progress. And if critical decision-makers take their time to wander in, you’ll waste time repeating discussions and reviewing decisions you thought had been made. These issues rob you of valuable time and prevent you from building momentum and speed.

Second, you don’t know when or where a crisis will hit, so you need a way to get everyone together that will work at any time of day and any day of the week – including weekends and holidays. (And if you’ve dealt with a few crises, you’ll know that somehow things always seem to break on a Friday evening or the Wednesday before Thanksgiving).

Third, getting the people together isn’t enough: they need information. So an essential part of mobilization is getting the person who knows most about the situation into the room or onto the call. That also requires some forethought and planning; otherwise, a vital part of your decision-making process – situational awareness – will be missing.

However, even though this might feel too mechanical and contrived, having an efficient and effective mobilization process is pretty straightforward.

What this looks like in reality 

Getting the right people in the room starts with understanding your chain of command. That’s your primary reference for who needs to be in the room and who you need to contact. Include contact details for everyone in the chain of command reference plus their alternates. Remember, people still get sick or take vacations, but this process needs to work 24/7.

Once you have this list, you then need to think about who will start calling people. Do you have a ‘duty officer’ for your firm? Is there a security desk that’s staffed 24/7? Who’s authorized to start the mobilization? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer here, but this is a critical discussion to have before anything happens; otherwise, it will be unclear who can start the process, and you’ll lose vital time.

Meeting in person is less likely these days, and you still need a way to meet out of hours, so you should have both physical and virtual meeting spaces where the team can meet. Physical rooms need to be in areas that all participants can access out of hours and need basic supplies, such as stationery, bottled water, and good connectivity and power.

Online meetings are a natural part of work these days, but you still need to plan for these to ensure that the room is available on different networks, that multiple people have the access codes and that you have a way to ensure that no one is ‘lurking’ in the room, listening to your sensitive discussions. It’s also worth having a backup, and keeping a basic conference line in reserve will serve you well.

Finally, the person who knows most about the situation must be present and ready to brief the team. Gathering their information and contact details should be the responsibility of the person triggering the mobilization. They are also responsible for reminding the expert or witness that they’ll have to brief senior executives, which can be daunting for some. Letting the expert know what’s coming will help them prepare and make their brief more effective.

The most important thing is getting your decision-makers together as quickly and efficiently as possible, and how you do that is less important. But if you can put a simple process in place for mobilization – keeping the points above in mind – you’ll be able to do this much more quickly and efficiently. Having a well thought-through process will also overcome the problems you’ll encounter when people are on vacation, or the meeting space you thought would work isn’t available. Most of all, a smooth mobilization gives you a welcome boost at the beginning of your response and helps you start building the momentum and speed you need.

Bill Coletti

Bill is a reputation management, crisis communications and professional development expert, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance panelist, and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management. He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.