It’s a major mistake to treat issue and crisis as interchangeable terms. And it’s time managers stopped “inflating” every other issue into a supposed crisis just in order to attract executive attention and maybe spring some extra budget.
Certainly, issues and crises are interconnected, but they need to be managed in different ways. Failure to understand that can risk misallocation of resources; desensitising management to the true potential impact of crises; and creating a false sense of preparedness for when a real crisis strikes.
For executives and communication professionals the difference falls under eight key categories.
Issue management is designed to allow you to explore all possible strategy choices, weigh the benefits of each option, and make an informed decision. Typically the more you explore the issue the more possible choices open up. In a crisis the positive choices narrow rapidly as the situation deteriorates.
When facing an issue you can research every possible fact, analyse the views of key stakeholders, and obtain independent expert opinion. In a crisis you often have to make decisions without knowing all the facts, when it is still unclear exactly what happened, who was responsible and what it will cost. But you still have to go with what you do know.
Directly linked to choice is the question of time. In issue management you usually have time to fully assess and make the best decision. In a crisis you are frequently under pressure to make a decision right now. In fact the best decision might be the one you should have made 30 minutes ago.
When you are facing an issue, costs tend to increase as an issue develops and potential cost is an important consideration in deciding how to proceed. By contrast, in a crisis urgently needed money simply gets found and cost is most often not a main consideration. It’s only after the crisis that lawyers and accountants start to argue about the dollars and cents.
Remember, Issue Management is steering the ship out of troubled waters. Crisis management is trying to save the ship after it has struck an iceberg.