Preparing for a crisis

Have you considered how well your organisation would cope in a crisis?  In some parts of the world, a disaster or crisis is just ending when the next one is beginning and therefore organisations and their people have been learning, over the years, through their sheer wealth of experience, how to manage in such situations.

Here in the UK we don’t tend to experience more than one, maybe two, serious crises in our working lifetime, where the very existence of an organisation depends on some carefully managed responses.  We’ve had our fair share of floods in the UK, but many have been limited to areas where there has been some degree of predictability i.e. lower lands etc.  If you are thinking big i.e. earthquakes, terrorist attacks, hurricanes etc., then being from the UK, you probably think the risk is somewhat low; and you would be correct.  Even though we’ve had our share of terrorist incidents, they tend to involve an unfortunate minority who’s only mistake is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  In saying that, it only takes one thing to happen to end a business of any size.  That one thing for Pam Am, that no-one needs reminding of, was the cause of their demise.

Before you dismiss the risk of a crisis to your organisation as being low, a crisis may arrive in many shapes and sizes and even shutting down for one day could be costly, not just in terms of lost revenue but also reputation.

Ryan Air is a prime example of a crisis of their own doing, not caused by external factors but by internal management issues.  The cancellation of so many flights, an apparent lack of pilots to cover annual leave and a poor communication strategy for managing the issue is likely to hit them both financially and reputationally.  It’s the type of incident that drives customers away to look elsewhere because reliability is a key factor, particularly in the airline industry.  You have probably seen Ryan Air become the butt of a few jokes on social media this week and it will be hurting them significantly.

The worst thing that you can do is be blasé about the risks to your organisation.  A collective case of food poisoning or flu could be catastrophic for a smaller organisation that may be reliant on a certain number of people to keep things afloat.  I’ll say it again; even one day of closure can send out enough signals to make customers seek alternative options.  If they go elsewhere, they may not come back.

So, what do you need to do?  Well firstly, do you have a crisis management plan?  It doesn’t have to be something big and fancy that looks good on a shelf; it can be a small document that articulates what your organisation would do, and primarily the actions of key employees, in the event of certain things happening.  By working through the plan, you can give some thought as to whether all bases are covered or identify any gaps that perhaps need closing off.  Do some scenario planning around the things that could go wrong for your organisation and what the response should be.  In many situations, a communication strategy is key because, whilst people on the outside accept that things can and will go wrong, they need to hear the right messages from your organisation in order to retain their confidence.

To gain a realistic appreciated of what could go wrong, you will of course have to assess your risks i.e. what is most likely to disrupt proceedings and what impact would there potentially be?  Once you know where the bad things are most likely to show up and in what form, then of course you can put measures in place to both reduce their likelihood and/or impact, but, things will of course still go wrong and that’s where having a crisis plan is crucial.  Since you cannot plan for every eventuality and prevent every possible disruption, what you can do is plan your response i.e. how you can effectively manage the crisis.

Having a plan that is activated when things go wrong is the first step in reducing the potential fallout.  Then next step is to regularly review and test your plan to ensure that it works and that people are aware of and understand and specific role they may have.  It’s often the first few hours of an incident where you have the upper hand and can manage what ‘news’ is put out there i.e. where you can call the shots and explain things before others will put out their own spin and conclusions to the fore – be that the media, competitors or discontented customers.  If you don’t have a crisis plan, making things up as the situation unfolds is the last thing you should do.  Having a crisis plan is like having insurance.  You hope you don’t need it but when you do, it’s there for you.

If you don’t know where to start or perhaps need some advice, get in touch with some professional people who can work with you to create a crisis management plan that you can be confident will help you when the time comes. And it will.

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