It’s safe to say the current global pandemic of COVID-19 caught many businesses and organizations by surprise. It seems that just overnight many businesses have had to close their doors, while others are struggling to survive the halt in production and dramatic decrease of consumer demand with an unknown end date. In the midst of a pandemic, it might seem counterintuitive to plan for the next unknown crisis, but now is the time. As we continue to live through our current crisis, planning for the next one now can provide insight we might not be able to recall in the next year or even decade. Whether you’ve closed doors or have adopted a work-from-home setup, it’s important to take the time now to create a crisis plan for the future.
Building a Crisis Plan
Creating a crisis plan before you know what the crisis actually is can be intimidating. However, the underlying concept of the plan should be relevant to every crisis. Whether you’re facing a global pandemic, a public relations failure, or a product error gone wrong, a crisis plan could be the difference between failing and rebounding. As risk managers, we see crises occur often. But, we also see many organizations successfully recover. No matter the industry, no matter the crisis, a good plan relies on these simple steps.
Develop Your Team
Navigating a crisis often requires decisions to be made quickly, but effectively. In order to do this, you need to decide who should be making decisions and who will make the final call. You might consider asking those who are essential to a crisis response effort to be a part of the team. This might require key individuals from various departments and expertise, like cyber security, public relations and marketing, legal, operations and finance. Once you’ve decided who will be key stakeholders on your team, assign roles so your team members can start navigating the crisis as soon as it occurs.
Evaluate Your Response
Not all crises deserve the same response. This is a great opportunity to get with your crisis management team to discuss how you would want to respond to different crisis situations. For example, in the case of a public relations error, such as a poorly stated response that upsets employees or partners, your team should decide who will be the spokesperson and which individuals should first be notified of the crisis. For active shooters or in the case of a fire, determine who the appropriate contact people are and know who will contact them first.
Align Messaging with Legal Advice
Oftentimes legal advice can be executed without taking compassion into consideration, resulting in a strategy that can actually make the situation worse. It’s important to align the two concepts to have a plan that is both legally smart and carries empathy.
Create a Communication Plan
Creating an internal communication plan is crucial. This will ensure that all internal members, such as employees, board members, volunteers, stakeholders, investors, and partners understand what has happened and how it will be handled. Taking a proactive approach will reduce widespread fear, rumors, and relaying inaccurate messaging to outside parties.
Your organization should also create an external communication plan, in case a representative from your organization needs to speak at a press conference or with the media. This step is crucial—make sure to choose a highly skilled spokesperson who has the ability to create thoughtful messaging and effective delivery.
Keep Important Information Safe and Easily Accessible
In the midst of a crisis, your work environment might become chaotic. It’s important to prepare all your documents before you even need them. Here are a few items to consider preparing:
- A comprehensive list of key stakeholders and partners- If a crisis occurs, you will want to alert your stakeholders, investors, and partners immediately. Easy access to these contacts will allow you to contact them quickly, ensuring the information gets delivered from the source.
- Electronic backup of all essential documents- If a crisis involves temporarily shutting down, like we’re seeing today, or if your physical structure is damaged, having electronic backup of all important documents will help you keep operations running smoothly.
Every crisis is unique and deserves an individualized response—risk managers can help with this, especially when creating a crisis plan seems overwhelming. To start, identify crisis scenarios that are most realistic and develop a response that seems appropriate. Even the practice of preparing for a future crisis will help you successfully respond when a crisis does happen.