The concept and application of issues management in business

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Businesses try to anticipate situations that might negatively impact their daily operations and long-term viability. In business jargon, professionals refer to these challenging situations as issues. Issues management teams actively monitor economic, socio-political, environmental and technological trends to prevent issues from materialising or to mitigate the impact of these when their emergence appears inevitable. In this article, we explore the concept of managing issues, explain how it differs from crisis management and conclude with steps for its effective implementation.

The concept of issues and issues management

Businesses use the term 'issues' to describe macro and micro-scale events that significantly impair a company. Issues might relate to internal errors, such as a product malfunction or employee misconduct, or external factors, such as adverse social media posts, environmental challenges or political changes. Some issues require little effort to remedy, such as a false rumour spread on social media. Others demand greater attention and carry the risk of long-term damage, for example, a class-action lawsuit.

Issues management refers to the proactive, strategic process by which businesses respond to emerging trends. Large companies often employ specific management teams to monitor events. These teams consist of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees that include special training for managing these issues within their curriculum. These professionals work for the company's best interests while ensuring or repairing the company's relationships with stakeholders.

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Differences between issues management and crisis management

A team responsible for managing issues tries to prevent problematic situations, whereas crisis management teams work with problems that have already happened. Below, you can review the differences between these two departments:

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Response diversity

Issues management often allows a greater diversity of choices when businesses face tricky situations. For example, it may be necessary for a business to contend with emerging trends towards environmentalism. If the business anticipates trends and notices how its competitors have faced lawsuits for environmental impact, it might plan for this and implement different strategies. The company might change its daily practices, align itself with an environmental non-profit group or support a bill that focuses on sustainability.

In comparison, crisis management teams usually work with fewer options as they have limited time and resources to face emergencies already in progress. They try to counter and mitigate these situations and base their choices on what is possible and most beneficial to the company overall. Companies often prefer the options offered by issues management compared to the necessarily fast choices of crisis management.

Certainty

Teams responsible for managing issues often reach decisions that feel more certain compared to crisis intervention units. They focus on research and planning, and teams often speak with stakeholders and experts to hear their opinions. With ample time, teams reach a decision that represents a well-informed and fact-based strategy.

Crisis intervention teams are required to come up with solutions in far less time. They may still contact stakeholders and experts, but their consultations conform to a limited timeframe. Ultimately, they produce ideas that companies often consider less definite and specific. The options represent the best alternatives for the given situation and conditions.

Immediacy

Crisis management works with a sense of immediacy. The outlook of issues management differs vastly from this as members of this team are not facing a current emergency, only the possibility of one in the future. Typically, the professionals who make up these teams rarely overlap as they require different mindsets.

Cost

Issues may cost a company money, but the funding depends mainly on how well the company can plan and make wise choices. A team responsible for managing issues usually comes up with more cost-effective strategies than the crisis management team. In fact, companies typically prefer the former because avoiding problematic scenarios costs less than dealing with them. It prioritises cost mitigation while crisis intervention focuses on immediate resolution.

Frequency of work

Issues management operates as an ongoing activity within a business. Members of this team meet at regular business hours and function much the same as other employees. Since most of their work involves research, analysis and statistics, they typically work alongside other departments and enjoy a steady role.

In contrast, crisis management divisions usually don't work standard hours or all times of the year. Most crisis management team members belong to other departments and form an intervention unit only when an emergency is in progress. This team represents a temporary reaction.

Impact

Issues negatively impact a company by affecting goodwill, operating licences, stock prices and future plans. The cost of prevention usually impacts the company less than that incurred by an emergent problem. Issues management, therefore, creates a strategy for reduced or negated impact. Crisis management tries to deal with the aftermath of an emergency, aiming to mitigate impact but, almost always, with less success than prevention.

Outcome

Issues management usually results in a more favourable outcome than crisis management. Both departments seek a positive outcome, but teams responsible for managing issues have greater opportunities to ensure the best possible result from an emerging situation. For crisis intervention, the immediate goal of elimination means that the costs, labour and resources spent may be higher for the company, albeit to a lesser extent than in an unaddressed scenario. Prevention means that companies can avoid the challenge of overcoming the results of a crisis.

The application of issues management

Large companies often establish a permanent team to actively monitor trends and manage issues. Whenever the trends suggest an emerging problem, the team informs leadership and suggests strategies for prevention and reduction. The team works closely with other departments such as public relations, accounting and legal. The following list explains six steps for implementing strategies:

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1. Identify issues and trends

It's useful to learn to identify trends that might affect a business. A team responsible for managing issues looks across multiple platforms to monitor risks from a variety of sources. A proposed legislative act might highlight a need for operational changes within a company. Social media trends and related social justice movements may affect the company's public image among a younger generation.

Teams responsible for managing issues also look internally for potential threats. For example, they might review data security if breaches have occurred or suggest updating employee guidelines that have led to reduced retention and employment reviews. Generally, this team engages with multiple monitoring tools.

2. Assess issue impact and set priorities

After identification, move on to the next step of evaluating the impact of a potential issue. Some teams prefer to categorise possible effects into distinct ratings such as high, medium and low. The higher the potential impact of an issue, the more important it is to consult with leadership and find a solution. Prioritisation helps teams handle more than one issue at a time.

3. Establish a plan of action

The team responsible for managing issues works together to determine a reliable plan of action. Some aspects worth considering when creating a plan include the total cost for implementation and the timeliness of the response. Often, teams draft more than one plan before choosing which option offers the best solution or leads to the most positive outcome for the business. Sometimes teams process multiple plans at a time to increase the likelihood of solving the issue.

4. Formulate a response

Issues management tries to consider all relevant factors when considering a response. This may include the type of information they choose to share with the public and how the issue is represented by the media or on social media. They may also provide a list of the employees who might speak on the situation if needed.

Related: How to use social media for business in 11 practical steps

5. Implement a strategy

After preparation and research, the team responsible for managing issues starts implementing the plan. The team assumes responsibility for communicating this within the company's internal networks and also to external networks via traditional and modern media platforms. This implementation stage may occur slowly or quickly depending on the complexity of the potential issue.

Related: The importance of good communication in organisations

6. Monitor the evolution of the issue as feedback for your strategy

Once the plan is in progress, it's beneficial to watch the results of your strategy to determine how well you have succeeded in reducing the risk. A team responsible for managing issues continues to review the potential challenges well after the introduction of the plan. They consider the current state of the company's brand and reputation, the feedback offered by staff and customers and the commitment of all departments in carrying out the strategy across all levels. Based on the results of the analysis, you might decide on any potential amendments or additions regarding the current or future plans.

Related:

  • What is a crisis management plan? (Plus how to create one)

  • Guide to People Management: Steps and Skills for Success



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