Board leadership in crisis management

December 2014

Members of the Lead Director Network (LDN) met in New York City on November 13, 2014, to discuss crisis management and cybersecurity. Dan McGinn, a communications expert with more than three decades of experience advising large organizations during crises, joined members for part of the meeting. In a separate session, King & Spalding partners with expertise in cybersecurity presented a case study about the 2013 cybersecurity breach at Target. 

This ViewPoints summarizes member discussions in two key areas:

  • Responding to a crisis
    Corporate crises, though by their nature rare, are terribly disruptive and can threaten the existence of an organization. Crisis response means empowering the right mix of well-prepared company insiders to work hand in hand with outside experts trained specifically to manage crises in a time-sensitive environment. This team must then strike a delicate balance between disseminating the key facts to a range of skeptical stakeholders in a timely way and guaranteeing the accuracy of that information. Simultaneously, the board must ensure that no conflict or other limitation suggests management will not be able to manage the crisis. If management is in control, the board’s primary role is to provide perspective behind the scenes. If management caused the crisis or is otherwise unable to handle the crisis, the board must take a more public role in the response.

  • Preparing for a crisis
    It is imperative to prepare response plans that empower leaders to act decisively during a crisis, even knowing that crises do not usually go according to plan. Steps like selecting company spokespeople and requiring them to undergo media training, retaining the right crisis management experts, ensuring that employees are empowered to report wrongdoing and that the company follows up on these reports, and applying lessons from other crises are some of the ways a company can prepare for when a crisis eventually hits – and, in some cases, to avoid it altogether.