Selecting a Crisis Management Consultant. (Crisis Management Series)

Article excerpt

There is always someone trying to sell your firm something. When it comes to crisis management planning, how do you determine if you really need help? And how do you pick through the candidates? Finding an advisor for crisis management advice is more complicated than arranging the typical consulting gig because so much is at stake.

Start with the Basics

Although it is routine for experienced risk managers, conducting a thorough risk analysis is a good way to start a search. This will help you to determine whether or not you need a crisis management consultant and what you might need one for.

Leon Kappelman, director of the information systems research center at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, used a simple five-point analysis of his risk management program before he chose a crisis management consultant. "Before you're ready to start thinking about a consultant, there are some basic risk management principles you need to [examine], regardless of industry or risk tolerance," he says. "In doing so you'll begin to understand where a consultant's help might be worthwhile."

These five steps shape the crisis management plan and the consultant's role in it:

1. Look at the big picture and continuously manage risk.

2. Develop a risk management policy and communicate it.

3. Establish clear accountabilities and responsibilities for identifying, managing and monitoring risks.

4. Seek balance. There are trade-offs between risk and reward, risk and control.

5. Encourage openness, conflict resolution and learning about risk management.

Within this general risk management structure, outline your crisis management needs. Identify the types of emergencies your firm might be exposed to based on frequency and severity. Have an idea of what the potential dangers are and the chances of them occurring. Prioritize your risks, assess your internal resources and, finally, see what types of external resources you might need.

Understanding the needs and goals of your company will also refine your search for a crisis plan and consultants. Crisis management is different for a school district and a chemical plant. Organizational structure and culture also play an important role.

"I often say to people when they are thinking about crisis planning, `Hold up a mirror,'" says Andrew Gilman, president of Commcore Consulting, in Washington, D.C. "Every company is different. One company I know of, all they care about is their product and their reputation. Another company in the same business has a very high-profile CEO; their [crisis] management has kidnap plans."

Evaluate Your Options

Once you have determined that you need a consultant, and you have an idea of what areas you want that firm or person to operate in, you must ask the tough interview questions.

Or really, question. Pose this to potential business suitors: There are a number of firms and individuals that we can hire. Why should we hire you?

It may seem like an obvious point, but everything hinges on the response to this query. The manner in which prospective consulting firms answer says a lot about them. You want to hear responses that are specific, not a politician's answer that can be interpreted in different ways. In the military, all members of the armed forces are always expected to give an accurate verbal assessment of a situation along with solutions. Demand as much from your consultant.

Your specific requirements for a consultant will be dictated by your risk assessment, but there are some common features that you may want to examine. The consultancy should have experience in the specific fields that you have marked as vital for your crisis management planning. More important, make sure it has a list of former customers or professional societies that can attest to its performance and competence. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is a neutral and thorough reference for this. …