Crisis – What is a Crisis?

The concept of crisis, derived from the Greek word ‘krísis’, originally means decision or turning point and was used in a medical context to describe the critical point of an illness. Today, the term is more far-reaching and refers to a phase of significant uncertainty, difficulty or instability.

A crisis represents a serious threat to the basic structures or fundamental values and norms of a system and requires urgent action. In our modern world, we encounter crises in various forms: from natural disasters and political unrest to economic and technological challenges.

The essence of a crisis lies in its ability to challenge the status quo, which in turn requires quick decisions and actions to avert or minimise potentially serious consequences. Crises are characterised by their unpredictability and often by their serious consequences. They require careful analysis and strategic planning in order to manage the resulting risks and achieve the best possible results.

Crises in companies and organisations

In the corporate context, the term ‘crisis’ takes on a specific meaning. A crisis in a company refers to a situation that has the potential to cause significant damage, be it financial, reputational or operational.

Such crises can be triggered internally, for example by management errors, fraud, technological failure or problems in the corporate culture. External triggers can be economic downturns, political conflicts, natural disasters or pandemic-related disruptions. The distinguishing feature of corporate crises is their potential to have long-term negative effects if they are not managed effectively. Managing these crises often requires quick decision-making, adaptability and strategic thinking.

Companies need to be able to recognise the signs of an impending crisis and respond accordingly. This can be done by setting up early warning systems, developing emergency plans and training staff in crisis management techniques and crisis management software. An organisation’s ability to manage a crisis can have a long-term impact on its survival and success.

Characteristics of a crisis

A crisis is characterised by several features that distinguish it from normal business challenges.

Firstly, a crisis is characterised by its urgency. It requires quick action to prevent or limit damage. Often one of the first steps is to convene the crisis team to take further action. This aspect of urgency is often associated with a high degree of uncertainty. Decision-makers often have to act quickly, even if not all the information is available or the situation is constantly changing.

Another characteristic is the high level of complexity, as crises can often affect different aspects of a company at the same time – from financial and operational to legal and reputational challenges. In addition, a crisis is often characterised by its significant potential impact. The consequences can be severe and have long-term negative effects on the company.

Last but not least, the perception of a crisis is crucial. How stakeholders – including employees, customers, investors and the public – perceive the situation can significantly influence the response to the crisis and its outcome.

These characteristics require careful and prudent handling in order to effectively manage the crisis and ensure the resilience and long-term well-being of the organisation.

Causes and types of corporate crises

Corporate crises can be triggered by a variety of factors that differ in nature and complexity. Internal factors often include management errors, ethical missteps, fraud, financial mismanagement, lack of adaptability or technological failures. These internal problems can manifest themselves in the form of financial crises that result in serious losses or liquidity problems, operational crises that affect production or service processes, or reputational crises that damage the company’s public image.

External triggers such as economic turbulence, changes in the market landscape, legal challenges, political instability or natural disasters can also lead to corporate crises. These external factors can catch companies unprepared, which emphasises the need for a robust risk management strategy. The ability to identify and mitigate risks is critical to a company’s long-term stability and success. Organisations need to cultivate a culture of risk assessment and proactive management to guard against such potential crises.

What effects can crises have on companies?

The effects of crises on companies can be far-reaching and devastating. Financial losses are often the most immediate and obvious result, but the consequences can go much deeper. A loss of reputation can cause long-term damage and undermine the confidence of customers, investors and other stakeholders.

Operational disruption can lead to supply bottlenecks, directly impacting customer satisfaction and ultimately sales. Long-term effects can also affect employee morale and commitment, which can further destabilise the company. In addition, legal consequences, such as penalties and sanctions, can increase the financial burden and further limit the company’s ability to recover.

Managing crises effectively therefore requires not only financial resources, but also strategic thinking, strong leadership and a culture that promotes resilience and adaptability. A company that survives and learns from a crisis can emerge stronger, with improved processes, stronger relationships with stakeholders and a better understanding of how to overcome future challenges.


To summarise, a crisis in the corporate context is a situation that has the potential to cause significant damage and requires immediate and effective action. The way in which a company responds to a crisis can be critical to its survival and long-term success.

Identifying potential risks, developing crisis management strategies and training employees in crisis management techniques are essential components of a robust risk management system. Organisations need to be aware of the different types of crises and understand how they can impact their operations, finances and reputation.

Effective crisis management requires a combination of proactive planning, strategic decision making and the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. Ultimately, an organisation’s ability to manage and learn from crises is a sign of its resilience and adaptability.