How to Respond to a Crisis

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Photo courtesy of Alex E. Proimos

We all experience crisis in our lives.

We can’t control who (or what) causes a crisis. It doesn’t even matter who is responsible. We don’t control those.

There is one thing that we can control: How we respond.

How to Respond to a Crisis

In 2012 I worked for a software company in Nashville, TN. Our flagship product was a software program called MediaShout. There were between 30,000 and 50,000 copies of our program being used around the world. That fall, on a Thursday night at 7pm, every copy of the software program stopped working. We were suddenly in crisis mode. If we didn’t handle this crisis well, the company was likely to fail.

Five Key Steps

During the crisis, we took five key steps. Each was instrumental in helping us effectively respond to the crisis. While these steps are discussed in terms of a corporate experience, the lessons are ones that you can use applied to any crisis.

Gain Perspective

The first step when responding to a crisis is to gain perspective. You need to understand what is happening and why.  If you don’t know what caused the issue, or why, it is impossible to fix.

Our development team immediately began to dissect the problem and confirm our suspicions as to where, why, and how the program had suddenly stopped working.

Own the Problem

Sometimes, the problem isn’t yours. Own the problem anyways. You’re the one having a crisis. Blaming it on someone else doesn’t fix the issue.

In our company’s case, our team determined the problem was with a 3rd party product. We couldn’t wait for the vendor to fix it. We had developed our own solution.

Rally the Team

In the middle of a crisis it’s important to make sure that you have a unified team. Stress exacerbates underlying problems and magnifies them. Make sure that everyone is pulling in the same direction, for a common goal.

The CEO regularly went around, encouraging each team member. We needed to make sure that everyone was focused on the big issues, instead of the small ones. We also had impromptu meetings during the crisis to make sure that everyone was on the same page.


Communication is key, particularly when you’re having a crisis. The best way to rally your team is through communication. If all the stakeholders are playing from the same playbook you’re much more likely to succeed.

At the outset, and as the crisis unfolded, we made sure that everyone was playing from the same playbook. During the crisis, we worked hard to provide all stakeholders, both inside and outside the company, effective information about what was happening. We sent out regular updates to the staff, the executive team, and our customers. We let everyone know where we were, what steps we were taking, and what we expected.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

During the crisis, we made sure that everyone could focus on the problem. All the ‘small stuff’ was taken care of. Breakfast, lunch and supper were provided. Additionally, the team was authorized to do everything necessary to take care of our customers. If a customer wanted a refund, it was issued; no questions asked.


Due to the actions we took in 2012, not only did we the company survive, we thrived. In the weeks after the event, the company received hundreds of emails from customers thanking us for how we handled the crisis.

We all experience crisis in our lives. How can you incorporate these five actions the next time you experience a crisis? Have I missed any key steps? Let me know in the comments!

Let me know what you think!