Crisis Management in The Year of the Crisis

Erin Sanders • September 3, 2020

As a professional crisis manager, I help organizations prepare for and avoid a variety of crisis situations. Despite all of this planning, no one was fully prepared for THIS year. 2020 has arguably become “The Year of the Crisis”; and it’s far from over.

Economies, companies, governments, communities, students and people all over the world are struggling from the impact of COVID-19, and experts are predicting widespread and significant ripple effects ranging from global hunger, climate change, unemployment and even a surge in unintended pregnancies. The word “unprecedented” has become ubiquitous, and in many ways, life as we’ve known it may never be the same. But we adapt, persevere and move forward.

How is your organization navigating risks and preparing for crises in this rapidly evolving economic, political and social environment?

While we face the current crises, such as the global pandemic and a renewed fight for social justice, we’re also dealing with the “regular” crises that continue to occur. But now we face a new environment in which to manage them, which presents new challenges. What to should your organization do?

Make sure that your crisis planning is adapted to be prepared for the “new normal”.

1) Review your current crisis management plan to ensure that the people involved and situations anticipated reflect the new environment in which we’re operating.

On a practical level, make sure that you have the correct personnel and contact information for your Crisis Response Team. This is the core group of executives and subject matter experts who will be called on a moment’s notice to respond to a situation that is or could become a crisis. Then, update your scenario planning through the lens of the current environment.

2) Evaluate how market changes have impacted your business and anticipate how they might down the road – both in terms of risks and opportunities:

Changing buying patterns and consumer needsMany businesses and industries (if not all) have experienced changing market conditions, both good and bad, related to COVID-19. For example, the shift to remote schooling has created both an opportunity and a crisis as companies, like Chromebook manufacturers, scramble to meet the new needs of educational systems. Healthcare providers have shifted to telemedicine visits, illuminating broadband deficits, especially in rural communities.

Business interruptions are common during market shifts, economic downturns, and pandemic restrictions or outbreaks. Be sure to keep in close contact with your key vendors and suppliers who are navigating their own challenges, and make alternate plans, should the need arise. While most of the business interruptions have been due to COVID-19, community protests and boycotts have impacted many businesses as well. And then there are the usual hurricanes, wildfires,

Cybercrime, fraud, product defect, system malfunctions, regulatory changes, and so forth, to consider as well, but in a new context.

3) Prepare even more specifically for preventing and responding to employee-related crises.

For many employees, “everything” has changed. We’re working from home and/or managing children schooling from home, taking on additional responsibilities at work, adapting to working and communicating from a distance, worrying about our own health and that of loved ones and others.

These situations are adding unusual levels of stress and anxiety for many employees and can lead to a downturn in morale and work output, and an increase in mistakes, struggles and mental health issues. Make sure that your employee communications and HR practices recognize this reality with compassion, grace and support. Communications may need to be more frequent, sensitive and transparent as possible. Offer additional coping tools for employees and reinforce good workplace mental health practices.

In the case of employee-related crisis planning, be especially prepared for:

  • Sudden changes in leadership and other key personnel
  • Employees or former employees “weaponizing” social media against you
  • Mistakes or intentional actions that cause damage to the business or customers
  • Risks created by increased use of technology by employees, customers and others
  • A physical or mental health crisis among employees

If your organization has a crisis plan, take the time to update it now and to anticipate – as fully as possible – the risks and opportunities of the current and evolving environment. Given the fragility and volatility the times today, a solid crisis plan is more important than ever.

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