Guest contributor: Jo Detavernier, SCMP, APR – Principal with Detavernier Strategic Communication

Post-mortems are very popular management tools among communicators, including crisis communications professionals, and for good reason:

They are crucial to the continuing improvement of processes and tools, as we explained in this article.  Many crisis communications manuals will actually contain a template for a post-mortem assessment to be conducted once the dust has settled.

A technique that communications professionals are less familiar with, but that is of equal value to them are pre-mortems.

Through a pre-mortem (also called “prospective hindsight”) you actually imagine that a project went awry in the future and you contemplate what might have caused its failure. A marketer might ponder why a product launch triggered no interest in the new offering, an internal communications manager might consider reasons why nobody cares to consult the new intranet and a crisis communications consultant might want to examine why it is that his or her organization did not manage to communicate effectively and efficiently in a crisis.

Related: PreparedEx Podcast: Communicating During Crises – An interview with Molly McPherson

Pre-mortems have proven to be very efficient in helping teams uncover shortcomings in the ways they have prepared for future contingencies. Any part of the edifice that is rock solid will not trigger much discussion. However, and this is the point of the exercise, some aspects of the organization’s readiness might prove themselves to be on more shaky grounds (“maybe we did not have back-ups in place for people who were needed to validate decisions?”) offering insights into critical shortcomings.

It is recommended that a pre-mortem is prepared, facilitated and followed-up on professionally. External consultants can play a valuable role bringing the professionalism and methodological rigor to the table that is necessary for any pre-mortem to be a success.