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Collaborative Crisis Management

Prepare, Execute, Recover, Repeat

Two experienced corporate crisis advisors offer a thorough and approachable guide to successful crisis management from anticipation to resolution.
All organizations face crises from time to time, and at a time when news, information (or misinformation), and rumors can spread quickly, a timely and thoughtful response to a crisis, is critical. In this book, two industry insiders offer a  primer on how organizational leadership should prepare for and handle crises. The steps, plans, and cautions they offer show how organizations can deal openly and honestly with challenges while continuing to survive and prosper.
Thomas A. Cole and Paul Verbinnen show how successful crisis management requires a multi-disciplined approach enacted collaboratively under strong leadership. Drawing on many real-world examples, they speak to not only what to do during a crisis, but also the need for preparedness and post-crisis follow-up.  The book is organized around a broad range of discrete issues that need to be addressed in managing any crisis and provides the steps required to successfully address each of those issues. The authors urge crisis managers to focus attention equally on four phases of management: prepare, execute, recover, and then repeat (after reflecting on the results of the last crisis) with the next one. The emphasis is on preparation and planning, setting up the procedures, and organizing the teams that will respond to each crisis.
Unlike other crisis books that focus solely on communication, Collaborative Crisis Management goes further and in addition to communication, it discusses both the legal obligations and organizational challenges that accompany a crisis. The result is an indispensable guide for leaders, board members, and business students.

184 pages | 1 line drawings, 1 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2022

Economics and Business: Business--Business Economics and Management Studies


“As anyone who has lived through a major corporate crisis knows, each crisis comes with its own facts, context, and nuance, requiring judgment and nimble decision-making. This book is packed with practical insights for successful crisis management.  It will be an invaluable resource to boards and members of senior management who are responsible for taking the lead when a company is faced with a major crisis.”

Greg Smith, former Executive Vice President for Enterprise Operations and CFO at Boeing

"Filled with tidbits of wisdom, explanations of decisions facing boards and management, questions to ask, and perspectives to consider, Collaborative Crisis Management is an indispensable book for those who are just learning how to navigate a crisis as well as those who are experienced and looking for a refresher. Regardless of whether you serve on a public, private, or not-for-profit board, this easy-to-read book with its well-researched appendices is a master class in crisis management!"

Michele Hooper, CEO, The Directors' Council; retired board member, National Association of Corporate Directors; Board Director, UnitedHealth Group and United Airlines Holdings

"I cannot recommend Collaborative Crisis Management too highly for any senior corporate manager. Cole and Verbinnen have written a classic on how to deal with the inevitable corporate crises that every manager will face at some point."

David M. Rubenstein, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of the Carlyle Group

Table of Contents


Part 1: Prepare
1: What Are the Common Themes? General Understandings Critical for Preparedness
2: How Do We Prepare? Concrete Elements of Preparation
3: What Is the Role of Corporate Culture?

Part 2: Execute
4: Who Calls the Shots? Governance and Organizational Aspects
5: Can We Afford This? Financial Aspects
6: What About Those Lawyers? Legal Aspects
7: What Do We Say? Communications Aspects
8: What About Our People? Human Resources Aspects
9: What About That Apology? A Multifaceted Issue

Part 3: Recover
10: Why Did It Happen? Root Cause Analysis
11: Can We Regain Trust? Reputation Rehabilitation

Part 4: Repeat
12: Did We Learn Anything? Assessment of Lessons Learned from Our Handling of the Crisis

Part 5: Other Organizations
13: What’s Different for Private Companies?
14: What’s Different for Universities and Other Not-for-Profits?

Part 6: The COVID-19 Pandemic
15 Observations on Public Company Responses

Part 7: Conclusion
16: What Questions Should We Be Asking?
Appendix A: The Tylenol Murders
Appendix B: Other Books About Crisis Communications
About the Authors


This is a book about corporate crisis management. We focus on the US public company, because crisis management in that business context is, arguably, the most difficult and complex. It is also what we know best. In writing this book, we draw upon our collective nearly three-quarters of a century of experience in advising managements and boards of public companies in crisis.

There are many books about crisis management. This may be the only one co-authored by a lawyer and a communication consultant. While you may be able to tell which one of us “had the pen” on which chapters, we have collaborated fully on all content.
This book is also different from the others in the following ways:
  •  Most other books are narrowly focused on communications during the pendency of a crisis, often with a particular focus on shareholders. We believe a broader focus is required for successful crisis management.
  • Certainly communications is a critical element of effective crisis management, and our chapter about communications is the longest in the book. (We also include an appendix in which we summarize the key recommendations about communications from prior literature and provide an extensive bibliography.) Nevertheless, as you can tell from the title and table of contents, we think that anyone in a position of leading a crisis management team needs to adopt a broader perspective and fully embrace the need for a multidisciplinary approach. Despite the fact that the various disciplines will not always align in their recommendations, a leader must insist on full collaboration, even under stressful conditions.
  • Clearly actions taken during the pendency of a crisis deserve intense focus. Nevertheless, as you can tell from the subtitle of the book, we believe that effective crisis management involves robust pre-crisis preparedness and thoughtful post-crisis introspection.
  • We are also deeply attuned to the fiduciary duties that directors and officers owe to the shareholders. Nevertheless, in an age of emphasis on all stakeholders (but also to optimize outcomes for the shareholders), we believe that both the leader of a crisis management team and the board of directors will best serve the company’s interests by adopting a perspective broad enough to consider the impact of the crisis, and how it is managed, on all of the company’s constituencies—especially the employees.
  • We emphasize the decision-making elements of crisis management—how to get the best inputs; where within the organization the decisions should be made; the need to be flexible and, on occasion, reverse course from prior decisions.
  • We discuss managing crises that simultaneously affect multiple businesses in a single industry or that spill over from one company to another. While misery loves company, having that company can complicate the task.
  • Finally, we are not presenting a handful of in-depth case studies, as is typical in many crisis management books. We are eschewing the case study approach for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, we have learned from experience that each crisis is sui generis. Put another way, if you’ve seen one crisis, you’ve seen one crisis! So, to our minds, a detailed description of only four or six crises doesn’t capture all of the critical elements of crisis management. And, because some of the crisis management case studies we could best present in detail are those where we were professionally involved, we have ongoing obligations of confidentiality and can’t talk about them. Our approach is to provide the reader with a mostly anonymous amalgam of lessons learned across all disciplines, from both crises where we had a front-row seat and those that we have observed from afar. That said, we do reference a number of crises by name, based upon publicly available information. The reader will see that most of those instances involve crises that could have been handled better. While it might be interesting to provide some positive examples, to use a medical analogy, we believe that more can be learned from “pathology” than from “wellness exams.” Moreover, the crises that might fall into that latter category typically have very little information available publicly. This is because, in some ways, a really well-handled crisis is like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one around (other than insiders) to hear. Supplementing our own observations, at the end of Chapter 12 we report on some lessons shared with us by CEOs and others who were intimately engaged in a variety of crisis situations. From all of that, we have tried to provide a useful discussion of all of the aspects of effective crisis management.
Independent of literature on crisis management, there is a field of sociological research devoted to disaster studies, and there are many practical works on disaster management. While that subject presents some interesting analogies, the literature in that area is, obviously, focused on macro (not micro) events and often management by leaders in the public sector. Of course, a disaster can also result in a company-specific crisis.
We are not aspiring to write a “how-to” book—because, again, each crisis is unique. Rather, we think it is more useful to focus on what questions to ask in order to gather the best available information to inform decision-making and to help focus on the many different kinds of decisions that need to be made, often quickly and in real time.

We have organized this book in the four, essentially chronological parts foreshadowed in the subtitle. As already mentioned, in many ways the best approach to ensure success in managing a crisis is robust pre-crisis preparation. So, Part I is PREPARE. When the crisis hits, it is time to EXECUTE; hence, the title of Part II. When the dust has settled, it is time to RECOVER and, finally, be even better prepared to REPEAT if and when faced with the next crisis. Those are the subjects of Parts III and IV, respectively.

As noted above, this book focuses on crises at US public companies. However, we think that managements and boards of other types of organizations—private companies in all industries, as well as universities and other not-for-profits—will find it useful. Special considerations for leaders of those kinds of organizations will be covered in Part V.

We hope, too, that professionals who advise organizations in crisis and journalists who write about organizations in crisis will also find this book to be useful. Another audience is business, law, and journalism school professors who instruct future generations of managements, directors, lawyers, communications professionals, and other types of consultants.

From the publication date of this book, it should be apparent that we began writing it just before the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic. (As more than one friend has stated to each of us over the past months, “you picked a helluva time to write about crises!”) That historic event represents both a public health and an economic crisis. The Pandemic has required intense management by leaders in both the public and private sectors. In Part VI we offer some preliminary thoughts—based upon personal observation and public reporting through late 2021—about how some of the key elements we identify as being required for effective crisis management were either present or absent in the responses of public company leaders.
We readily acknowledge that in 2020, and continuing into 2022, there were other crises—social, environmental, and political. The corporate response to those crises—including whether or not to speak out, especially on social or political issues—is important, but beyond the scope of this book.

Finally, Part VII is a collection of most of the key questions that should be asked by corporate CEOs and board members, early and often—before, during, and after a crisis.

We hope that you, the reader, will find this book useful for dealing with crises. To be most useful, the entire book (or at least Part I) should be read before a crisis occurs. While we hope you will not have to manage a crisis, it would be an unusual organization that has a crisis-free existence.

To paraphrase a popular bumper sticker, “crisis happens.”

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