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The Onion Model and Crisis Management

written by: Bruce Tyson • edited by: Ginny Edwards • updated: 1/1/2011

Onion Model crisis management analysis relies on the famous concepts espoused by Mitroff and Pauchant in the 1990s that show how various organizational levels influence the way organizations approach crisis management.

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    The Onion Model: An Overview

    The Onion Model looks at an organization as having four separate, interdependent layers. Like an onion, the outer layer is the most800px-Onion white background  visible and is responsible for interfacing with the outside world. It is at this level where organizational strategies including ideas for handling crisis management occur.

    The strategies at play on the outer layer (layer 4) of the onion determine how the organization interacts with the outside world. Whether or not the organization's strategies are effective, however, is determined largely by the underlying layers which tend to influence their nature.

    Layer three deals with organizational infrastructure. The everyday operation of the organization determines how susceptible it will be to a crisis and forms the underpinnings of any crisis management plan. If appropriate infrastructure is not in place, the organization could prove to be volatile and will be unable to support an effective crisis management strategy even if one is in place at layer four.

    Continuing toward the organizational core is the organization's culture. Although more abstract than the outer two layers, the Onion Model postulates that a pathological organizational culture will result in volatile daily operations which in turn will result in a problem with crisis management. Attitudes about communication, error handling, integrity, and customer service are all part of the culture of an organization that will determine how its operations and strategies play out over time.

    Finally, at the core of the organization is the organization's personnel. The overall effectiveness of the organization and its ability to survive a crisis is dependent on each human resource. From the leaders of the organization to its staffers at every level, if there is a lack of good people with solid experience and the ability to respond to increasing and changing demands, the company is doomed, even if the fundamentals of the other layers are sound.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Fir0002

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    Applying the Onion Model: Crisis Management

    The core of any organization and its ability to respond to crises is its employees. Effort should be made to not only evaluate the response of every worker to a crisis situation, but also to provide education, counseling, and training to make sure that the staff is able to respond effectively when a crisis occurs. An organization will be further compromised by a crisis if its people freeze in fear or indecision rather than react fluidly to changing circumstances.

    From this it easy to see that a workplace culture based on fearful, controlling people will further hinder the organizational response to a crisis. If finger pointing, closed communications, micromanagement, and other damaging traits are allowed to permeate the organization, it will be at a disadvantage in every part of its day to day operation and will likely be ineffective in the event of an organizational crisis even if crisis management plans are in place.