8 ways to tell an issue from a crisis

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.

Issue management is a normal executive activity, done according to schedule in office hours while business continues. A crisis, by definition, is outside normal experience. It causes top executives to drop all other priorities, and it may severely disrupt continuity of the organization’s core activity.

Issues can extend over months, years or even decades. Crises generally have a more explicit time frame and eventually come to an end. However the consequences of the crisis, particularly financial, legal or reputational, may persist for much longer.

The impact of an issue is often measured in terms such as market share, reputation, community concern, licence to operate and stock price. A crisis may have some of the same impacts in the longer run, but more immediately a crisis threatens life, property or the environment, or threatens organizational survival or capability to operate.

The purpose of issue management is to identify potential problems early and work towards planned, positive outcomes. By contrast, despite the theorists who claim that a crisis is both a threat and opportunity, the reality is that a crisis typically endangers the entire organization, and the primary objective is to minimise damage and help the organization survive.

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.


About managingoutcomes

Issue and crisis management expert
This entry was posted in Crisis management, Issue Management and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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