One thing the coronavirus pandemic has brought to light for businesses large and small is the need for crisis management. Prior to COVID-19, only 62% of companies had a crisis management plan, and less than half of those were kept updated. However, the virus has shown businesses that everyone is vulnerable to a crisis, so steps need to be taken to make sure you’re prepared.
Some things have improved thanks to COVID-19. For example, the Business Continuity Institute (BCI) found that 41% of organizations can now activate their crisis plans within 5 minutes, compared to 32% in 2019. However, the same report found that levels of crisis training remain unchanged, despite the clear and visible impact of the pandemic.
To make sure the next crisis doesn’t see your organization caught unawares, it’s crucial to create and maintain a ‘toolkit’ of the information leadership will need to deal with it. You don’t want to be working out what to do as you go along, leaving yourself open to making mistakes that can have a huge negative impact on your business. Instead, it’s much better to consider the following:
What are your crisis management plans?
First and most importantly, you need a plan. If you’re starting from scratch, it’s best to imagine a specific emergency such as a cyber attack or major data breach. What needs to be done from the moment the crisis is discovered? For most businesses, verification will be an important step; how can you quickly determine what’s happened and what the impact is?
From there, you need to move onto communication. How will you tell the company what’s happened, and what messages are most important to get across to them? Then think about how you’ll monitor the crisis, and what steps need to be taken to resolve it. In the example of a cyberattack, law enforcement will need to be involved and your IT team will need to work to limit the damage as much as possible.
Once you have a plan together, you’ll need to repeat this process. Create plans for as many crises as you can think of. You don’t need to be too granular, but make sure as many of your bases are covered as possible. What will you do in case of a natural disaster, a break-in or a sudden financial blow? Being prepared will be key in all these situations, so you need to plan for them.
Who makes up your crisis management team?
When a crisis hits, who’s going to be responsible for what? This is one of the most overlooked aspects of crisis preparation. A huge amount of vital time will be saved if leadership knows exactly what their responsibilities are as soon as a crisis hits, so this should be planned out and included in your crisis management plans.
Exactly which staff members are needed will depend on the emergency. For example Jonathan Hemus, managing director of crisis management consultancy Insignia, points out that cyberattacks are an increasingly likely crisis and will require involvement from your head of technology downwards. However, this might not be the case for every crisis, and it may in fact be more beneficial for certain leaders to simply help keep things running smoothly.
It should also be clear in your crisis management plan which teams will be available for leadership to utilize. McKinsey has stated that a purely top-down response is no use in a crisis. Instead, leaders should make use of a network of teams to gather information and respond appropriately, and these should be laid out long before a crisis hits.
What messaging will you use to respond?
When a crisis hits, over half of marketing and PR professionals agree that preparing an appropriate response is one of the biggest issues. Obviously this will depend on the crisis - making sure your employees are safe should always be the number one priority - but messaging will usually determine a large part of how your company fares going forwards.
Chad White, Oracle’s head of strategic research, sums up the point of this:
This will go a long way to putting people at ease about your company, and ensure you retain their trust.
This means thinking about the basics. What will change about your customers’ experience? Will stores be closing or opening hours changing? Are any services or events likely to be cancelled? However, you also need to inform people of how you’re keeping your employees, customers and clients as safe as possible during the crisis. Include possible responses in your crisis management plans, along with a reminder of all the questions that will need answering.