Blog 17 June 2020

Are You Prepared for a Post-Pandemic Crisis?

Changing dynamics demand an urgent reworking of crisis management processes

Today, most offices and many industrial facilities remain shuttered. Employees are scattered in a state of enforced refuge and we are all leaning heavily on technology for continuity-of-business. The onslaught of Coronavirus has upended the way we operate. It has asked tough questions of organisations large and small across the world and hard decisions are made on a daily basis often in response to quickly changing Government guidance. In the ‘fog’ of a global pandemic, immediate challenges can crowd out considerations that, while not seeming like urgent priorities, can have punishing and far-reaching consequences if ignored. For business, crisis management is chief among those considerations.

Most medium or large businesses have some measure of crisis planning in place. This will typically feature phased protocols and reasonably defined crisis management team roles and responsibilities. Some will contain forensic detail, carefully mapped stakeholders and a library of pre-drafted collaterals tailored to every conceivable crisis scenario. Many are housed within the pages of a ‘doorstep’ Crisis Management Manual (CMM). Others are found on selected desktops in various states of repair but whatever the format or state, until now, they offered peace of mind and a sense of defensive readiness. That legacy comfort may now be misplaced. In reality, the vast majority were written well prior to 2020 and the onslaught of a COVID-19.  

No longer will you be able to hastily assemble the majority of your Crisis Management Team (CMT) in a designated ‘war room’ at a moment’s notice. Fast, informed and accurate decision making requires immediate input from the full CMT brain trust, but that resource may currently reside in a home-office in a different city, region or country, on the shoulder of a home-schooling child or on a call to a vulnerable or isolated parent. Others may even be battling the virus itself. It follows that CMM’s lacking remote accessibility, apps optimised for mobile or hyperlinks to critical content will severely undermine the execution and performance of crisis management. Enforced remote working won’t last forever but a higher ratio of remote working is a likely outcome across many organisations. Ergo, the assumptions and logistical principles on which your crisis management protocols are founded may no longer be fit for purpose.

All of these complications increase risk. First, the very nature of the current disruption increases organisational vulnerability given employee dispersal and the consequent challenges in swift, efficient internal communication. Second, some threats are amplified as has been seen with the uptick in cyber-attacks. These unprecedented circumstances mean previously manageable issues can escalate into a full-blown reputational crisis quickly.

Some companies may not have truly recognised the increased risk presented by the pandemic. Others may consider the circumstances temporary and not requiring of crisis protocols review. The reality however is that the operating environment has changed and risk profiles for many organisations are in flux. Moreover, if working habits are poised to change for the long-term there is an inevitability that crisis management protocols and procedures will have to undergo at least a degree of redesign. The square peg of pre-2020 crisis planning won’t fit into the circular hole of current and post COVID-19 corporate operational behaviours.

Now is the moment to carefully consider how processes can be adapted to new realities. The most reliable and efficient tools and platforms available must be deputised to make certain your reputation isn’t compromised by a weak link in the communications chain. The key crisis principles of identification, escalation, investigation and communication remain but the path to their smooth execution will have changed.  Your spokespeople may be sat at the kitchen table and not ready to face journalists at an affected location. Your urgent media interviews may need to happen over video calls and a professional setting will need to be created. Organisations that haven’t amended their crisis protocols in light of changing dynamics may find themselves having to do so in the teeth of a reputational attack and waste the most important commodity available to them; time.

Kekst CNC understood the challenges many companies face in managing a crisis over a broader geography well before the spectre of today’s pandemic. In a digital world, containing a crisis within a market or locality is often impossible and the structure of many companies requires crisis management execution from several locations. Today, we are adapting our Situation Room digital crisis simulator to test the roll out of crisis management remotely and in multiple locations. Now, we are able to offer training entirely remotely or as a hybrid that fully reflects the current pandemic circumstance (and a likely post-COVID norm) where some people are on-site, and others are in multiple remote locations.

The world has changed and unless crisis management keeps pace, the heavy investment already made (in many cases) in crisis management protocols may be rendered useless. By the same token, a sober acceptance of this fact now will allow companies to make the necessary changes hopefully well ahead of a crisis emerging. Revisit your risk audit to identify new threats. Update your crisis manual and ensure it is digitally available, familiarise crisis management teams and undertake simulation exercises to stress test both the process and how your teams apply it in practice.

Adapting to a world in the grip of pandemic has given many organisations and their employees valuable first-hand experience of operating under serious pressure and actively managing a range of crisis. This puts many in good stead for handling future issues but now is the time to prepare in earnest.