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5 tips to manage a crisis


The COVID-19 outbreak presents a major crisis for businesses, and the objective of managing a crisis event should be simple: as an organization, how do we protect our people, assets, and other stakeholders? While that objective may be straightforward, executing the "how do we" effectively is what causes organizations to struggle. Many businesses falter when developing a crisis-management program that not only works, but also thrives within an organization's culture.

Each organization has their own set of possible crises that—if they are to happen and if they are not managed effectively—could cause significant harm to the organization's assets, reputation, and underlying stakeholder value. For example, if you're a landlord, a crisis could be a fire in a retail space, a residential building, or a construction site; it may be a bomb threat within an enclosed shopping centre; or it might be that your customers' personal information is compromised. In this COVID-19 pandemic, if you're the leader of an office and an employee tests positive for the virus, the crisis affects all employees and any visitor to the office including clients and delivery companies. The bottom line – a crisis can happen anywhere and can have a rapidly moving reach.

Some worst-case scenarios within your organization that would keep you up at night include fire, fatality, active shooter, cyber breach, and bomb threat. Today we can add "pandemic" to that list. These are the incidents that a plan should be established and implemented to address.

Consider implementing our five tips when establishing a crisis-management program.

1. Keep plans simple and harmonized

Crisis-management plans must be practical and accessible—a 100-page flipbook could never be effectively used in a time of crisis. Utilizing simple flow charts, steps, and/or checklists rather than lengthy protocols will guide employees who are unsure how to react. Plans must provide users with enough information to guide good decisions—not stop timely decision-making.

To support on-the-ground decision-making in a crisis, plans should be harmonized with high-level business strategies—business-continuity plans, public safety and emergency response strategies, and risk-management programs.

2. Establish crisis leaders and structure

Clearly define who leads your crisis response—the last thing you want is five individuals working at cross-purposes rather than collaboratively. Make sure everyone knows who leads a crisis response locally (at the site of the incident) and who takes the lead corporately (from an executive perspective).

The leaders must be well versed in the crisis-management protocols and seek cross-functional support to work the problem at hand (e.g., communication teams, operational teams, insurance teams, human resources, etc.).

Depending on the size of your organization and the nature of the incident, you may have many crisis leaders—for example, building issues should fall to the operations-team leaders, construction incidents could fall to the construction-team leaders, and cyber breaches to the IT-team leaders.

3. Train stakeholders

Organization-wide, one-size-fits-all training sessions won't work. Crisis-management training needs to be tailored for different employee stakeholders. The role of senior management differs from that of operations and that of human resources. Every employee group has focused responsibilities to ensure an effective crisis response—crisis-program training needs to dive deep on each group's respective roles.

Moreover, the best training is achieved from scenario breakout sessions that go through each group's responsibilities. In a pandemic situation, this could look like a role-play scenario where an employee has tested positive for the illness and the employee groups must react step-by-step. This will allow you to determine any response gaps and adjust to help ensure crisis-response success.

4. Organize communication

So much of effectively responding to a crisis incident is communication. Communications should consider the many different touchpoints needed during the crisis incident (notification, response, status updates, resolution, and not-to-forget lessons learned) and the many different stakeholders a crisis may involve (first responders, employees, senior management, partners, the media, and the general public).

What is most critical is managing the message, however. Make sure facts—rather than possible facts—are communicated proactively through appropriate channels and processes.

5. Leverage technology

Today, almost everyone has a smartphone. Technology is available that allows companies to leverage smartphones to expedite communication in a crisis situation to the right people. Smartphones provide organizations with mass-communication capabilities to promptly notify employees of incidents and to inform them throughout a crisis. They can provide employees with access to crisis-management protocols in real-time. Long gone are the days of crisis-management binders that can only be used if you're sitting at your desk.

How BDO can help

Crisis situations are not easy to deal with. BDO's Crisis Management team can help navigate through the uncertainty that comes with the COVID-19 crisis by developing effective crisis-management strategies and deploying plans that allow for a fast and cohesive response that better protects your organization's reputation and assets. Our integrated proactive approach is based on organizational realities, transfer of knowledge and designed to foster autonomy, enhance resilience, and ensure sustainability.

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