Crisis Management Types and Theories

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Crisis management has been widely studied in the larger context and there appears to be unanimous consensus among researchers with regard to the importance of having effective crisis management strategies. As businesses look to go global, they experience multi-faceted challenges, wherein, issues that may initially may not seem to have a major impact later translate into a potential crisis situation.

Based on the existing literature and studies on the subject matter, this section would assess the different types of crisis management situations and how effective strategies are drawn by corporates.

Crisis Situations – From Detection to Resolution

Over the years, as the subject matter of crisis management has been studied, there is evidence of how a possible situation evolves into a crisis and ultimately its resolution. Based on Pearson and Mitroff (1993) and Fink (1986), it can be concluded that crisis management model comprises of four distinct stages, which starts with the detection stage where there are early warning signals which need to be detected and recognized to be able to communicate and strategise effectively. Ping, Cui and Pan (2011) are of the view that in cases where a well-thought-out crisis management framework exists, organisations are better equipped to identify these early warning signals and manage the situation accordingly, which substantiates the importance of having an effective crisis management framework for contemporary organisations. Further, they highlight the relative importance of effective communication to be able to disseminate the right message across the organisation, which allows for better resource allocation and mitigation measures to deal with the situation at hand.

The second stage of the crisis management model is occurrence, that is the crisis has actually occurred and has either brought tangible damages or is on the verge of doing so. During this stage, firms tend to design their strategies and responses with the objective of minimizing the damage and contain the intensity of the damage. Most of the crisis management framework execution falls in this stage, where the crisis handling team is expected to diligently evaluate the situation at hand and effectively apply the crisis management framework.

The third stage of the model is recovery, wherein firms tend to strategize to recover from the damage that has been done by the crisis situation to enable restoration of normal business and major financial capabilities. Depending upon the size of damage that the crisis may have caused, the time taken or resources required for complete recovery from the crisis situation may differ.

The last stage is resolution which involves a holistic assessment of the situation that occurred and a review of the existing crisis management framework to identify gaps and required interventions such that a similar situation does not arise in future. From a futuristic perspective, this is the most important component of crisis management framework, and therefore, modern day management experts put great emphasis on the same.

SMEs are an integral part of a state’s economic development since they contribute substantially to the economic development of the nation and account for the majority of employment opportunities. The governments in the Middle East acknowledge this, and many states have created separate government entities and institutions that design policies for SMEs. Despite this, Lu et al. (2020, p. 1) note that “SMEs are often the most vulnerable when there are major public crises. This vulnerability is linked to the nature of SMEs and their operation activities, mainly the fact that they are often operated by their owners, who also play the role of the manager (Runyan, 2006). Additionally, they have lesser financial resources that can be utilized for crisis management and because they depend highly on the state’s government or the local governments.

Most Common Sources of Crisis Situations

As part of the extensive studies that have been conducted on crisis management, a key component has been the most commonly experienced reasons for such situations. In this regard, building upon the works of Mitroff (2005), Sher (2006) and Alas (2009), Gao (2010) concludes that more than 50% of the crisis situations faced by firms are due to economic / financial reasons. It is reckoned that due to evolving business landscape along with technological advancements, as competition intensifies, it becomes all the more important for businesses to devise strategies in a manner that allows them to compete efficiently and to also account for external factors such as macroeconomic indicators, changing trends, etc.

Assessing the significance of financial and economic reasons in context of crisis management, Waleed and Ashari (2016) are of the view that the reason why a significant proportion of crisis situations is due to financial and economic reasons is because in most cases, these situations arise from macro-economic level factors, and on various instances, these factors are beyond the control of firms. In this regard, the Financial Crisis of 2008 is a prime example, where the crisis emerged particularly from the banking and housing sector, however, later had an impact on the overall world economy and consequently impacted the businesses and SMEs as well. Therefore, for businesses to succeed and in a sustainable manner, it is imperative that managers carefully assess the ongoing trends and make a close assessment of the various internal and external factors, that could possibly have an impact on their business.

Further, the second and third most commonly experienced crisis management situations are due to reputational or HR related. Sontaite-Petkeviciene (2014) assesses crisis management from reputational perspective and notes that the same can have material implications in the long-run. Sontaite-Petkeviciene (2014) notes that while financial and HR related crisis can be overcome in the long-run, reputational crisis tends to have a much severe impact which is further accentuated considering the highly competitive environment in which contemporary businesses operate. These stem mostly from questionable practices, such as accounting frauds, practices that are not in line with environmental concerns and can have far reaching implications including loss of customers and market share.

As an example, the accounting manipulation at Tesco plc caused it to not only pay £ 325 million, but more importantly also brought significant damage to the retail giant in terms of its reputation. Moreover, while the financial and HR related crisis situations can be corrected through internal measures, considering that reputational crisis involves a range of external stakeholders, therefore the strategy to mitigate and handle such situations requires a detailed assessment and coordination with external stakeholders.

Hutchins and Wang (2008) evaluate the possible reason for HR related crisis situations and conclude that these are mostly prevalent in economies having strong presence of labour union. They conclude that while HR problems are present in most organisations, firms particularly in the Asian economies experience such situations where labour unions are strong enough to call strikes that could possibly result in emergence of a crisis.

Moreover, as technology has evolved and businesses have looked to capitalize upon the growth potential that online platforms have to offer, there has been unparallel growth and coverage through social media platforms. While the unprecedented growth in social media in the last decade or so has paved way for growth and gaining competitive advantage for businesses, Cheng (2016) notes the social media has led to be a breeding ground for crisis situations as well. In this regard, Burson-Marsteller and PSB (2011) conclude that based on study of 16 international companies across different countries including United States, China and France, it was found that 36% of crises were a result of digital security failures or negative new media publicity. Here again the focus is on external factors having an impact in terms of a possible crisis situation and with the rapid development on this front and increasing power of social media, handling social media platforms become an integral part of the overall communication net for any business, including SMEs.

When examining the literature on the topic of crisis management for SMEs in the Middle East it becomes evident that the available resources are scarce. For example, Lu et al. (2020) and Dahlesh and Susilowat (2015) state that the majority of the literature is focused on the crisis response when dealing with a natural disaster or a catastrophe. In that case, the issues that SMEs deal with are typically concerned with lost property and a mild reduction of profits until the normal functioning of the society is restored. However, with the pandemic, SMEs have faced a variety of new challenges previously unknown to people. Moreover, Santos et al. (2013) argue that not only are the studies on crisis management during the epidemics are limited, and these disruptions often have a prolonged effect on the economy and how it operates.

While crisis typically occurs unexpectedly, some companies have strategies for addressing these issues, while others lack such practice. Apart from the strategy, Shrivastava (1993) argues that the process of crisis management is a systemic response rather than a single action committed by the management that involves the stakeholders. The inclusion of internal and external stakeholders allows for early detection, preparation, response, and post-crisis recovery from the event. Hence an integral part of crisis management is the collaboration with the people that are either directly involved with the business or have an indirect link to it and leverage their viewpoints to create a cohesive response strategy.

Crisis management also involves understanding the risk paradox and its dualistic nature. According to Herbane (2010), risk management is a dyad of a growth vulnerability paradox and risk elastic. The first component means that risk reduction is interchangeably connected to growth and diversification, and the second implies that there is less financial uncertainty with growth. Hence, although a crisis is viewed as an inherently bad thing that disrupts the operations of a business, there are positive aspects to it as well.

Some industries are affected by crises more than others, especially when considering COVID-19, where the main disruption occurred within the travel and hospitality companies. According to Burkhan et al. (2021), who studied the response to COVID-19 by the hospitality industry SMEs in Pakistan, the support of the government and the use of resilience techniques have become determinants in shaping the response of these companies and the success of these strategies. The phenomenological approach used in this study allowed one to determine the exact response strategies that helped these businesses survive the market shock caused by COVID-19.

As a result, these SMEs were capable of adjusting because “resilient practices are hygiene concerns, increased promotion through social media, innovative marketing practices (e.g., revised offerings), operational cost-cutting and employee training to comply with changing standard operating procedures from the government and industry” (Burkhan et al., 2021, p. 103037). SMEs often rely on the government’s support, and there is a lack of theoretical and research grounds that would help develop a solid crisis response approach for these enterprises. Hence, their management has to learn on their own. Runyan (2006) states that based on the SMEs’ response to Hurricane Katrina, one can assume that the primary source of their crisis response strategy is the support of the government. Hence, not only SMEs’ leaders do not have the literature that would outline the proper ways of responding to a crisis, but they also rely extensively on outside support rather than their own resources.

Another study that focuses on government support as an integral element of the crisis management and stimuli for SMEs working during challenging times is by Kalinovski (2015), who argues that the East Asian economic model and the approach to managing and helping SMEs differs from the methods accepted in the West. States in the East avoid using the short-term Keynesian policies for fiscal stimulus and instead focus on industrialization and supporting the competitiveness of the local companies in the international market. Hence, the process of analyzing the crisis situation and selecting an adequate response strategy also involves the ability to adequately assess the economic policies of the government and the economic model they apply.

The development of the crisis response strategy requires the management to not only create a plan but also provide the resources that would allow for its execution. Al Snobaki et al. (2016) analyze the managerial response to the crisis situations in the Gaza strip and Palestine and state that executives develop strategic plans for responding to crises but fail to provide the needed financial support to execute these strategies.

Moreover, the majority of the SMEs leaders in these emerging markets do not plan ahead a potential response to a crisis and instead begin the planning once the issue has already occurred. Al Snobaki et al. (2016) recommend dedicating financials that the management would use to address a sudden crisis as this approach significantly reduces the shock that the business might experience as a result of this disruption and decrease the recovery time substantially. This inconsistency with the planning and execution stages also shows a discrepancy between the crisis response of large companies, which often have funds dedicated specifically to such situations, and SMEs.

The states in the Middle East have prioritized the support of SMEs as part of the strategy for enhancing economic development, which means that companies in these regions have access to more extensive governmental support when compared to others. According to Khan et al. (2020), The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is an interstate government body created to coordinate actions of governments in the Middle East, has emphasized the importance of SMEs for the economic development of this region and, therefore, has created policies that support these enterprises. This is because of the significant contribution to the job creation that these enterprises make and because of the innovation and development they offer. Khan et al. (2020) surveyed entrepreneurs from the Middle East to determine what allowed the latter to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and found that SMEs owners possess specific qualities that presumably help them overcome the crises.

In Qatar, the government and the ruler played an essential role in determining the response to the virus and the businesses’ ability to survive. According to Owen (2020), the ruler asked to dedicate 8.2 billion dollars to the crisis response that would be used to help SMEs and other businesses directly. Moreover, according to Owen (2020), “Qatar has moved to provide financial support across multiple facets of the economy.” The mentioned finances were awarded towards the government contracts in the fear that the CODI-19 would prompt a recession and as a countermeasure to it. Moreover, commercial institutions in the state, such as banks, now offer loans to SMEs that are given to cover the expenses associated with the pandemic and related losses. The stock market is still functioning, and the Supreme Committee for Crisis management has allowed postponing bank installments for six months. All of these measures show that the government is oriented towards supporting SMEs and helping the economy go through the pandemic without substantial economic damages.

Crisis Management Theories

With regard to crisis management, several theories have been presented, some of which are summarized below:

  • Issue and Crisis Management Theory: States that issue and crisis are interlinked, wherein, an issue can lead to a crisis or a crisis can create an issue to deal with, and therefore effective management is critical to avoid an issue change into a crisis situation. As part of the Issue and Crisis Management Theory, focus is on carefully assessing a possible issue that may have emerged and the need to recognize the problem and deal with it accordingly before the same takes the form of a crisis, thus having material implications in the short to long-term.
  • Contingency Theory: Emphasizes upon the uniqueness of each situation and concludes that it is important to carefully assess the situation at hand, related factors and then strategize accordingly. Under this theory, focus is on recognizing the uniqueness of each situation and that the ‘one size fits all’ approach may not be valid in every crisis situation. Therefore, with intricate challenges that may be unique to an organization, it is important that the crisis management framework not only appreciates these challenges, but strategies are drawn keeping in view the same.
  • Image Restoration Theory: Strategies that can be used post crisis situation and emphasizes that for successful resolution of crisis situations, honest and ethical communication is critical.
  • Attribution Theory: Highlights and emphasizes importance of analyzing the factors that led to a crisis situation and a subsequent assessment in context of internal and external stakeholders. The underlying idea behind Attribution Theory is that even when the crisis situation is over, it is important to analyze what factors caused such a situation to emerge in the first place (i.e. attribute the situation to the factor causing it).

Formulating Effective Crisis Management Strategies

For modern-day organisations to have sustained competitive advantage, it is of critical importance for them to be able to deal with a possible crisis situation in an effective manner, for which, it is imperative to have a strong and effective crisis management framework. Mehr and Jahanian (2016) discuss the Contingency Theory perspective in relation to preparing a crisis management framework. As summarized in the previous section, the theory argues that given the unique nature of every crisis situation and the extent of damage that it causes may vary from one firm to another, it is critical that both internal and external factors are duly accounted for when preparing strategies to deal with any potential crisis situations.

Here, the example of recent COVID-19 pandemic is well suited as it has been a crisis situation which is one of its kind and similar situations have not been witnessed by most of the organisations previously. Further, the relevance of preparing crisis management framework considering the Contingency Theory is reaffirmed by the fact that the extent of damage that COVID-19 pandemic has brought to economies and sectors has also differed. As an example, with the physical workplace being closed down as a measure to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and the resultant shift towards ‘work from home’, the impact in IT industry has been much less as compared to the travelling sector, and therefore different set of strategies would be required for each.

Further evaluating the development of strategic framework to deal with crisis situations, it is reckoned that effective planning and strategizing to deal with potential crisis situations are fundamentals in modern-day firms. Al-Khrabsheh (2018) conclude that an effective framework is a combination of practicable techniques and a pre-emptive strategy-oriented planning. The author further highlights that an effective crisis management framework is one which inculcates and nurtures the resilient behaviour within organisations, that is, essentially their capability to immediately preserve through crisis situations. In this regard, it is argued that for any organisation to respond to a crisis situation effectively, it is important that the firm and its management are prepared to anticipate, confirm and are also ready to respond based on an assessment of internal and external factors which may have an impact on the situation at hand, either directly or indirectly.

Hough and Spillan (2005) in their study included a ‘Crisis Planning Process’ encompassing five different steps. In the first step, the authors have concluded that it is important to identify individuals who form part of the crisis management team and must have representation from all key functions of the organisation. The purpose of having a targeted crisis team is to be able to effectively identify the possible areas of vulnerability that could expose business to such situations and have mitigation measures in place to adequately handle if such a situation arises. Moving on, the second step is the identification and analyzing the possible vulnerabilities. In context of contemporary organisations, emphasis is laid on regularly visiting the business model and be equipped to mitigate any crisis situation, especially making a detailed assessment of external factors. With vulnerabilities identified and ranked in terms of their intensity and possible impact along with any past precedents if available, management is better placed to allocate resources and identify gaps or interventions accordingly.

Moving on, the third step is to create strategies which essentially is to provide a broader picture and roadmap in handling such situations. During this stage, focus is on establishing major goals and expectations with sufficiently detailed directives to be implemented at functional levels. In this regard, Ponis and Ntalla (2016) present that organisations can greatly benefit by creating an early warning system with a list of indicators tagged which could automatically trigger the crisis management plan or strategy. This would predominantly mean that as a situation similar to the ones identified as a ‘warning sign’ emerges, the organisation would not only be better aware of the situation but also prepared in terms of handling the same.

The next step of the planning process stems from the Contingency Theory as detailed above, wherein, not a single set of rules may apply in every situation and therefore it is critical that organisations and workers are equipped and possess the skill set required to work the plan. Bundy et. al (2016) note that as important as it is to create a team and plan for crisis situations, equally important is to understand and be aware of when and how to deviate from the plan to survive during a crisis situation. What this suggests is that while having a standardized framework to handle crisis situations is beneficial, at the same time, it is important to have the required flexibility and ability to modify the plan to better suit and effectively manage the crisis situation.

The last stage of the crisis planning is to assess the performance which mainly relates to undertaking a review in terms of how the crisis management plan delivered against what was expected from it. Similar to any other performance review, it is critical for firms to regularly revisit the crisis management plans and framework, particularly how well the strategies have delivered in the past and what needs to be done to make them more effective for the future.

Moving on, with regard to effectively dealing with crisis situations, a critical part of the framework is effective communication. Deverell (2012) highlights that even with well-defined crisis management plans and structure, due to lack of effective communication, the same is not well known to workers and therefore they are not able to implement or execute the plan as desired. Further, it is argued that in the absence of effective communication, crisis may result in instigating panic across the organisation where workers may be unaware of how to respond to handle the situation. Marsen (2019) identifies that on the contrary, organisations which have effective communication practices, they are much better off not only in terms of identifying the potential crisis situation, but also how to respond. Accordingly, it is critical that the communication framework is placed as a fundamental to the crisis management framework or strategy.

In addition, the role of leader is also central to effectively handling crisis situations. Cener (2007) identifies the following as the major qualities that leaders must possess to be able to effectively manage crisis situations:

  • Ability to identify signals leading to a possible crisis situation.
  • Prepare and protect against crisis.
  • Ability to plan and organize crisis management.
  • Efficient decision making and use power throughout the crisis management process.
  • Ability to ensure effective communication during the crisis situation which also include keeping the team morale high.

Based on the available analysis and studies, it is evident that crisis management framework is critical for modern day businesses and therefore necessary resources must be allocated for the purpose. The existing studies have also laid great emphasis on recognizing the uniqueness of each situation and while the general principles of handing a crisis situation including effective communication and leadership skills may hold relevance in almost all situations, it is imperative that a proper framework is designed having the required flexibility to alter or modify the planned strategy such that it is aligned and best suited to handle the crisis situation.

One of the core problems that SMEs faced during the pandemic was the need to close their doors in accordance with the regulations of the local governments. However, as Lu et al. (2020) note, once the businesses, reopened they faced another challenge linked to not having as many customers and orders as before.

There is a difference in the capabilities and priorities regarding the crisis response that big companies and small businesses take. Faulkner (2001) states that it is common for large companies to have well-planned and documented crisis response strategies, while SMEs usually lack this practice. As a result, bigger companies usually recover from these shocks faster and more easily when compared to small and medium-sized enterprises. This argument is supported by Herbane (2013), who states that SMEs typically do not have formalized crisis response strategies or purchased insurance plans that would cover the damages caused by the occurrence. As a result, the impact of a crisis on an SME is typically more significant, and it is more challenging for them to recover afterward. Herbane (2010) also states that the success of the risk response depends on the time and financial resources available, which also limits the capabilities of SMEs to respond to these unforeseen events.

One way that SMEs may respond to a crisis is by avoiding insurance hedging strategy and leveraging borrowing money that implies these companies gather the financial resources from the family members and friends that are later used to support the crisis response strategy and operations (Dayour et al., 2016). This approach contrasts greatly with the one that big companies apply, as they usually have funds decided to crisis respond or can request the government’s support.

Separately from SMEs, one should review the definition of a startup and how these enterprises survive a crisis. According to Kuckertz et al. (2020), these companies develop scalable business models and high profitability, which means that they, by definition, operate in a highly uncertain environment. Salameh and Dana (2020, p. 1) investigated the response of the Iranian startup companies to the COVID-19 pandemic and found that “financial, human resources management, support measures and mechanisms, marketing, crisis management” are the areas of concern with these companies.

Moreover, while traditional SMEs in most developed states received financial relief from their governments, not many states considered including startups in their support plans. Salameh and Dana (2020, p. 2) only mention Turkey that allowed their startup companies to skip paying rent for two months, while other states, such as Saudi Arabia, the US, and European countries, dedicated most of their relief money to either support large corporations and SMEs, with little attention given to startups. Considering the nature of the startup business and their unstable business models, it is clear that it is more difficult for them to respond to a crisis, and with COVID-19, these enterprises were not supported by the government, which also heightened their ability to respond to these issues.

Apart from startups and small companies being inherently vulnerable to any type of disruptions, these enterprises are especially at risk if they are operating from an emerging economy. For example, the pandemic is “dramatically worsening the economic outlook for emerging economies” because the restrictions in these states are more severe when compared to those in developed economies, and the resources of these governments are directed at satisfying the basic needs and healthcare needs of the population (Herrero, 2020, p. 10). This is an important factor since, as was mentioned before, SMEs often rely on financial or policy-oriented support from their governments, which means that SMEs in developing economies are at an automatic disadvantage because they do not have access to these resources.

When considering COVID-19 as the main crisis of the past decade, it is important to note that the pandemic has been the biggest and most unprecedented crisis. Moreover, the crisis affected the states not only in terms of economic development and the businesses in terms of their profits, since, as Salamzadeh and Dana (2020) note, there is a 22% economic decline globally when compared to 2019. This pandemic also was a public health concern, which involved a variety of restrictions and regulations not linked to the business activity directly. Still, Salamzadeh and Dana (2020) note that some SMEs and startup companies have used this opportunity as a way of growing their businesses; for example, some have reoriented their priorities and began to develop test kits, protection gear, and other related medical products.

This highlights another important crisis response strategy that should be discussed, which is using the crisis as an opportunity to grow and develop this business. Moreover, Salamzadeh and Dana (2020) cited examples of startup companies, SMEs, and startup incubators, which have collaborated to help one another and create a supportive ecosystem and an environment under which this cooperation can help these companies survive the pandemic by shared resource use of by sharing the knowledge and competencies.

Since pandemics affect economics and business in a different way when compared to natural disasters, it is important to look at the specific differences focusing on the financial and operational aspects. Lu et al. (2020) state that cash flow, supply chains, and market demand are the three elements that are most impacted by such crises. For example, most SMEs do not have substantial working capital, and some do not have any, which means that during shutdowns, these organizations had no financial resources to support their reoccurring payments. According to Castillo (2005), retaining revenue streams is essential when SMEs try to address a crisis, and this can be done by taking money from the firms’ savings, owners’ personal savings, or bank loans. Next, the disruption of the supply chains is an inevitable consequence of a global crisis, and delays in a firm’s supply chains will lead to a longer recovery from the pandemic. Finally, the market demand typically decreases during a crisis due to uncertainty, although SMEs are often opportunistic and can leverage these changes.

Evidently, the pandemic has become a disruption to many businesses, including SMEs, and its consequences will continue to impact companies in the future. For example, Dayour et al. (2020) focus on a case study of Ghana’s tourism sector, which experienced shutdowns, cancellations, layoffs, and the need to continue paying taxes with minimal operations. This is despite the fact that the tourism and hospitality industries are typically susceptible to crises and respond well in the long term perspective (Avraham, 2016). However, Dayour et al. (2020) identify the following stages of crisis management for SMEs “awareness, combating the spread of COVID-19, coping mechanisms, short-term/immediate and long-term recovery measures and lessons learned” (p. 10). Interestingly, the process of combating a crisis under this framework involves a learning stage at which the management is capable of learning from the experience they have gone through and integrating some new response methods into their operations.

Some researchers offer SMEs to use reinforced versions of the well-tested crisis management models to address the challenges of the pandemic. For example, Islam et al. (2021) offer to use the Quadruple Helix Innovation Model to address the challenges of the pandemic. The authors argue that SMEs currently operate under the conditions of uncertainty, and therefore, it is vital to ensure that they can access the financial resources, communication, cooperation, and the commitment of leaders. The Helix framework, as explained by Islam et al. (2021), is a model that explains the interactions between different institutions with the knowledge economy. Each helix in this quadruple corresponds to a certain part of the economy or social life, and by applying this framework, the business can achieve sustainable development.

During the pandemic, sustainable development is not the goal of the businesses as many SMEs try to survive this crisis and continue to operate with huge losses. However, by utilizing the model of interactions within the knowledge economy, these businesses can see how knowledge can be leveraged. However, Islam et al. (2021) argue that understanding the basics of how the knowledge economy operates and how the different elements of it interact with society and the business can help SMEs quickly adjust their models to target crisis reduction.

In summary, this literature review explores the theoretical basis of crisis management, such as the steps involved in identifying and addressing a crisis and the different theories of crisis management. In general, SMEs are less equipped to address sudden disruptions, both financially and strategically, when compared to big companies. In many cases, they rely on external support, either from the government or by borrowing money, although some studies show that SME owners possess certain traits that allow them to withstand the disaster.

The next chapter of the study details Research Methodology and how the existing studies shall be incorporated as part of the quantitative and qualitative assessment which will conducted for this study.

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