How To Maintain Continuity in the Face of Crisis
By Monika Mueller
Crisis management is a skillset. In fact, a more appropriate label may be chaos management. When an unexpected event or disruption rattles the foundations of your organization, you need to know what to do. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a pandemic, geopolitical event or supply chain issue, leadership doesn’t have time to scratch their collective heads and ask … now what?
Effective crisis management goes far beyond diversifying vendors in different parts of the world to minimize risk. It requires preparation and practice. Yes, practice. Strategically, your organization needs to know exactly how to deal with an unexpected disruption — tactically, emotionally, and beyond. A proactive response will help you significantly minimize the impact of a crisis.
The key is to have the conversation now, well before the next unexpected event is upon us. Focus on these key pillars of crisis management now so your organization can respond quickly to unforeseen events, and maintain continuity for clients under any circumstance.
Acknowledge the Crisis
Not every crisis is immediately obvious, and leadership may very well have differing opinions on the severity of the situation. Whether Putin is on the border and you’re debating if he’ll invade, or someone considers the Coronavirus harmless, your organization needs to come to a consensus, and quickly. It’s always better to plan proactively for something that may turn out to be minor, rather than scramble to react when you’re in the thick of it.
Establish a Response Team
Establishing a Response Team allows you to identify exactly who will take action in a crisis, and what those actions will entail. This subset of your leadership team essentially serves as a SWAT team and should be determined in advance — well before a crisis hits. This team must be empowered to cut through the red tape in the event of a crisis.
In an emergency situation, you don’t have time to be paralyzed by process. When time is of the essence — say you’re hustling to charter a handful of planes to move team members out of a country in crisis — your team shouldn’t have to slow down to fill out forms. Your Response Team should have complete authority to make executive level decisions without following an established (and often slow) approval process.
Gather Accurate Information
While communication is one of the most important pillars of crisis management, gathering credible information on which to act is equally important. Where will your Response Team source their information from? Reuters? The Wall Street Journal? CNN? The time to debate the merit of news sources is not in the midst of a crisis. Have the conversation now so you know exactly where to turn for accurate up-to-the-minute information.
Identify the Impact of the Crisis
The first step in creating a Disaster Recovery Plan is to identify the impact of the crisis, on both your team and your clients. Who will be affected on your team, and how? What impacts can clients expect, and how can this impact be minimized? Of course this impact will vary greatly depending on the nature of the crisis.
While it’s natural to think of impact in terms of the bottom line, don’t overlook the human side of the equation. Moving people out of harm’s way during a geopolitical crisis is a natural step, but what about after they’re relocated? Ongoing services like mental health resources should be factored into your overall Disaster Recovery Plan.
In these types of humanitarian crises, it’s crucial to prioritize people over profits. That means being willing to sacrifice short-term goals that may no longer be relevant, and to quickly adapt to the new normal.
Build a Communication Plan
Communication is the cornerstone of crisis management. From clients to your internal team, you should serve as a source of credible information about what’s going on, and what your company is doing about it. Beyond regular updates to the organization, you may also need to communicate to the market if you’re publicly traded. You cannot over communicate in these situations, so a great deal of time and effort will be spent to disseminate information. This is crucial to build confidence that you’re handling the situation.
Consider the example of a geopolitical crisis. If you have teams at risk in their location, you may need to have daily conversations to talk about what’s going on, explain the risks, and coordinate travel and living expenses if they choose to relocate. Your clients will want to know exactly what’s going on with teams they work with, including where they are, where they’re going, and how they can help. This is just one example of the massive communication efforts that are a part of any Disaster Recovery Plan.
Put Your Crisis Planning to the Test
Practice is perhaps the most valuable step in crisis management planning. The only way to truly prepare for the unexpected is with a runthrough. Take your Response Team through a Mock Crisis Situation and have them respond in the ways your organization has agreed upon. Everyone should know their role ahead of time — now it’s time to put all that planning to the test.
Once your team is through the exercise, it’s crucial to look at what worked and what didn’t. Was there a communication breakdown? If so, where? What could the team have done differently? This type of assessment is invaluable for effective crisis management planning.
Maintaining Business Continuity
The ultimate goal of crisis management is to minimize the impact on business continuity, and curtail any kind of client disruption. Proactive planning gives organizations the ability to quickly react to global events and ensure continuity regardless of what happens.
With the recent crisis in Ukraine, Softensity’s own crisis management was put to the test. Within weeks, we relocated a significant number of team members out of harm’s way. In the midst of this massive behind-the-scenes coordination and communication effort, we worked tirelessly to minimize any disruption to our clients. What are your vendors willing to do for you?