- Like our diets, we can take different approaches to how we prepare for crises. Many companies have a high-carb, ‘junk food’ approach to crisis preparedness which generates a short-term ‘sugar-high’ but little sustainable benefit.
- Unlike high-carb diets, a keto diet advocates a higher fat intake to help generate a long-term, sustainable supply of energy.
- A ‘keto’ crisis diet focuses on steady, sustainable, preparedness which will help companies build their longer-term reputation and a solid foundation for crisis response.
During the holiday season, especially just after Thanksgiving, many people begin to think about diet and health: what did I eat, what should I eat and what can I do to try to stay healthy? Or the big one – how do I lose weight?
Over the years there have been many diet fads but the keto diet has become very popular recently, especially amongst endurance athletes. The keto diet is a lower-carb, higher-fat diet that swaps out fast-burning carbs for slow-burning fats to provide a more steady, sustainable energy source that avoids the empty calories that carbs often provide.
Don’t panic, I’m not about to start evangelizing the benefits of ‘bulletproofing’ your morning coffee with yak butter or tell you to throw out all the carbs in your house. (Not before Thanksgiving anyway.)
But this contrast between a steady, sustainable energy source from fat versus the rapidly-fading sugar high of carbs did make me think about the contrasts between how corporations prepare for and respond to crises.
For many, their crisis ‘diet’ looks a lot like what the average teenager would eat if left to their own devices: junk food!
Crisis prep ‘fast food’
Over-indexing for social media chatter. Becoming distracted by the latest industry fad. Dropping everything to respond to an ‘urgent’ (but not important) story about the firm. This ‘junk food’ diet leads organizations to bounce around between what’s hot or new instead of focusing on their mission and values and what’s really affecting their organizations in the long-term.
These organizations train and exercise, thinking they’re planning for the long term, but the training or crisis simulations are more entertainment than informative. Everyone certainly had their hair on fire and was panicked during the exercise and there was a definite high afterwards. But this faded quickly and there was little to no long-lasting benefit.
This is the crisis equivalent of high-carb junk food: it’s great at the time and you will feel full for a while but it’s not nutritious and that feeling will fade quickly. Most importantly, if this is all you eat, it’s pretty unhealthy.
Long-lasting crisis preparation
On the other hand, some organizations think about risk and crisis in a holistic, long-term context. Their communications or external affairs team aligns with the operations group, identifies areas of risk and prepares accordingly. We illustrate this approach as follows.
This is all done in a slow, thoughtful and deliberate way, to build a long-term, sustainable capability. Their attitude to reputation and trust reflects that of Mike Barnett:
“Corporate reputation is an observer’s collective judgment on a corporation based on assessment of the financial, social, and environmental impacts attributed to a corporation over time.” (Emphasis mine)
So instead of leaping from fast-burning issue to fast-burning issue, none of which amount to a critical moment, they are building a reputation that is the sum and substance of an observer’s judgment over time. Organizations that think this way really begin to manage for the long term. They become more lean and focused which is reflected in how they prepare, train and respond to crisis.
This approach is the equivalent of the high-fat, sustained-energy approach that the keto diet advocates – the diametric opposite of what you get with the junk food approach.
Importantly, despite some misconceptions, the keto diet doesn’t mean slow and steady: these companies will still be able to respond with speed in a crisis. However, unlike those on the ‘high-carb’ crisis diet, they will also have the endurance to maintain their response for the long-term.
Switching to a crisis keto diet
So what does this look like in reality for you as a crisis manager? As there are different versions of the keto diet, similarly there are a number of different ways that organizations can pursue ‘keto’ crisis readiness.
Some organizations focus on comprehensive, thoughtful gap analysis workshops and long-term simulations. They are less interested in ‘hair-on-fire’ simulations and more concerned with identifying process gaps that might cause the organization to fail.
Other organizations stand up a corporate reputation council to identify legacy or emerging issues that have or could threaten the organization’s reputation. This council then drives the initiatives required to find and fix these issues for the long-term. This makes sure they’ve learned from the past and are better prepared for the future.
Some simply focus on internal alignment. They want operations, communication, legal and the executive team to be aligned and coordinated. This develops their understand of how each other works and makes them more able to make decisions quickly and efficiently. This alignment breeds the trust and speed needed to respond to an actual crisis.
Lastly, some organizations take a very process-oriented, risk-driven view. What are the threats? What are the potential impacts? What are the issues from a legal standpoint that can most directly impact what we do? And how do these affect our objectives and what are we going to do about them?
Regardless of the approach you take – and you can combine these techniques – the point is that you’re not running on the short-term fix of junk food. Rather you’re focusing on the things that you can control, and the things that really matter to allow you to build, maintain and defend your reputation over time.
So, with that, have a great Thanksgiving holiday and all the faster-carbs that entails. But once you get back to work, take a look at the keto diet: it might not taste quite as good in the moment, but it’s much better in the long-term.
(And just in case there was any confusion: I’m not a dietician and I don’t play one on TV so please don’t take any actual dietary advice from this article! If you are interested in this kind of nutrition, you can learn more about ketosis here and here.)