Imagine you and your co-workers coming into the office and discovering that the computers won’t boot up. Or the phones aren’t getting a dial tone. Or the heat isn’t on and it’s January. Or there is an unusual smell that is making you nauseous …
Any of these scenarios could qualify as a crisis. The situations may not carry the apocalyptic impact of a natural disaster or a complete server meltdown, but they nonetheless can disrupt operations, impede productivity, damage reputation with customers (if they are eventually affected by the crisis), and cost money to fix. And they often are more frequent than the all-out catastrophe—consider a 2016 survey that found that 39 percent of responding organizations had been impacted by ransomware in the previous year. If your computers have been hijacked, you might be facing a bigger problem than any snowstorm.
When the non-working phone system, the chilly office, the ransomware, or the funny smell happens, your company must be ready to deal with the immediate crisis and return operations to normal. The strength of your continuity program will dictate how quickly that normalcy returns. Here are four vital aspects every crisis management plan should include:
Don’t plan for every scenario
The possibilities of things that can go wrong may seem endless, but the outcomes and solutions generally are not. For example, dozens of scenarios (e.g., floods, bomb scare, power outage) can force workers out of their offices, but likely, you will need only a few solutions to solve the immediate problem of where those employees can work in the interim. The key for your crisis management initiatives is to plan for denials - denial of people, denial of technology, denial of facilities, and denial of a key supplier. Keep in mind that some crisis will have more than one denial. But instead of planning for every single scenario, a better strategy is to use the “denial” strategy and spend more time building muscle memory in the business units with training and exercises.
Chain of command
Part of the chaos created by crises small and large is that something happens and nobody really knows what to do, who to call, or who is in charge. Unless some sort of chain of command is established—not easy considering a crisis is in progress—one of three outcomes might occur:
- Paralysis sets in and little or no progress is made toward solving the crisis because no one is sure what measures they should be taking or if they are even involved in the recovery process.
- Everyone acts independently to solve the crisis, which often results in duplicated measures, unnecessary measures, or contradictory measures that actually make the crisis worse.
- Through employee expertise or dumb luck (or a combination of both), the crisis is solved, but it still takes longer than necessary.
All three outcomes, even the fortunate outcome No. 3, are costlier than they should be; simply because no one was in charge. A chain of command, perhaps spearheaded by a core crisis team of a few key stakeholders across multiple departments, can oversee crisis management and give employees someone to call when the unexpected does occur.
A great way to avoid the chaos of employees unsure of what to do during a crisis is to provide training. Readiness in the face of a crisis is difficult if workers haven’t learned the “muscle memory” of their responsibilities in resolving the situation. Moreover, some employees might not even realize that the company has a crisis plan, much less that they might have a role in executing such a plan. A robust training program builds not only awareness, but also confidence that employees will be up to the task when a crisis does strike.
A crisis communication plan
Communication is essential for any crisis management plan and it could entail multiple strategies. First and foremost, a plan must account for communicating with employees—members of the crisis team, crucial departments, and even rank-and-file workers who may be affected by the crisis. If, for example, an active shooter event is occurring, employees must be alerted on where to go and what to do in order to be safe. Second, if customers are impacted by your crisis, they will need to be notified that your call center is down or that your service is temporarily unavailable. Finally, spokespeople must be designated and strategy established on when and how news and updates of the crisis will be disseminated. Good communications, along with a strong plan and focused training, can go a long way to ensuring crisis management solves an urgent situation as efficiently and safely as possible.
Which parts of a crisis management plan do you feel are most vital?