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Positive Cause Analysis – Crisis Lessons

Positive Cause Analysis – Crisis Lessons

This is the time of year when many initiate training and updates for their crisis and emergency response plans. This structured approach provides a very important first line of defense. However, a purely formulaic approach of practicing an untested plan is rarely enough to address the complexities of a real corporate crisis. Here you need to learn from past crisis experiences so you can address the nuances that are so important to successful crisis response. We use the term positive cause analysis to describe this study and the crisis lessons learned.

Positive Cause Analysis

In fact, the best time to conduct a positive cause analysis is immediately after a crisis. The optimal time to assess and learn from your crisis response, as well as stakeholders’ reactions, is while the experience is still fresh. Unfortunately, few feel they have the time or energy to conduct a positive cause analysis after a crisis.

How You May Feel About Crisis Lessons

Suppose you’ve just finished the concluding press conference where the Governor praised your company for your selfless dedication to protecting the community. You did this by safely resolving the crisis and setting a new standard for a transparent and compassionate response. What more could you do? You’ve set the example for others and you’ve already been asked to speak at an industry conference. If anything, your company’s reputation is even better now than before the crisis.

The entire team and you are exhausted! You’ve been working around the clock, under extreme pressure and you dropped everything so you could successfully manage this crisis. While there always seem to be a few slips in a crisis, by any standard you and the team did a remarkable job. In fact, in most situations, you worked together just as you planned and trained.

You saved the company, your employees and the surrounding community from a catastrophe that wasn’t even your fault. Yet, you’re tired, your family needs you and customers are complaining. Even your full-time job seems ready to fall apart from neglect.

 “The results speak for themselves, so why would we subject our team to second-guessing every action,” you tell yourself. “We’ve already learned so much from this real-life exercise. Why demoralize our team now by auditing their actions at the very time when we should be celebrating them?”

Tired executive after a crisis lessons

The simple answer is that you need to capture all the crisis lessons you learned, while memories are fresh, and position yourself to do even better next time. And, don’t fool yourself, there will be a next time!

Why Positive Cause Analysis

There are two reasons to conduct a positive cause analysis. The first is for continuous improvement, ensuring that you institutionalize the best practices and prevent errors. The other is because the latest great performance has set the new expectations from those who will be watching your next crisis.

If you don’t do as well or better next time, they may perceive your emergency response as flawed, inadequate and a reflection of your failure as a corporation.  No one needs that! So, you really need to do something. A real crisis is the best way to test and improve your plans. If you don’t squander this opportunity, it can help you become the best of the best.

Importance of Crisis Lessons

Initiate a positive cause analysis as quickly as possible after a crisis and do your best to have results back within two to three months. This will ensure that the crisis is fresh enough to study and recent enough to put the crisis findings in context for your management and board.

Next, you need to determine how you position the crisis lessons learned and even what you call it. If it is a crisis post-mortem, participants will look for causes of the crisis and not what was done right. If you call it an audit, it will be perceived as looking for errors and people will be defensive. We prefer positioning it as a positive cause analysis.

The term positive cause analysis places the emphasis on identifying and reinforcing what worked well. While you will also identify problems in the crisis response, the emphasis should be on enhancing procedures for future responses rather than finding fault.

Who Conducts Positive Cause Analysis

The other important consideration is who does the post-crisis work:

  • You can do it yourself. While you need to be careful not to let your own biases cloud the information, your first-hand knowledge, perspective and expertise are relevant. Just be sure you can dedicate the time to do a thorough job in a timely manner.
  • You could assign this to more junior staff, but the lack of experience may be an issue. Make sure they have the knowledge and wisdom to make sound judgments.
  • Internal auditing can be very comprehensive in their review. However, they do not have expertise in the area, so your team will still need to be involved.
  • A functional group such as operations, communications or safety could conduct the review. Their limitation would be their comprehension of work outside their areas and the distraction from their other responsibilities.
  • A cross-functional team may not be the most efficient structure, but it does provide a broader corporate perspective on the crisis.
  • Find a firm with crisis management, crisis communications or emergency response expertise that conducts post-crisis reviews. This can allow you to capture lessons and even update plans without a significant drain on your time and staff resources. Corporate Crisis Group will conduct a positive cause analysis for its clients and there may be other firms who have this capability. The key is to bring crisis/emergency response and communication expertise together in such analyses.


You may be surprised by how much you will learn from a positive cause analysis. It may also help your team perform more proficiently. It doesn’t even need to be your crisis. You could conduct a positive cause analysis on another organization’s crisis. By applying the crisis lessons learned and exercises to your crisis plan and team, you can gain insight into how you would respond. Just be sure to update your plans and conduct drills soon, before your next crisis hits.

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