As we all learned from Covid-19, everything changes when a crisis occurs. In the case of Covid-19, the unexpected and immense changes that erupted as a direct result of the pandemic impacted the course of history forever. Some might say that the change was for the good (remote work and blended models are now widespread and we care more about personal and public health). Some might say that the change was meant to wake us up to environmental issues. Some would say that the mask policies that were put into place because of Covid tested the willingness of the common person to put up with temporary discomfort for the betterment of everyone (recovery from the pandemic and a return to normal). Many would say that it tested our response rate to a widespread crisis. The truth is that there is a lot we can learn from Covid-19 when it comes to crisis leadership and best practices for handling adversity & crisis. Naturally, there were a lot of questions and a lot of solutions that were enacted quickly (as a crisis response) when covid-19 emerged. After all, there was no choice but to respond (the world, the country, government officials, business leaders and, yes, each of us). And the best practices for crisis resolution were generally respected. Attempts were made to respond accurately, consistently, and quickly. Whether we took it seriously or not was up to us. With millions of Americans dead, the virus took a huge toll on American lives and not everyone agreed with the Covid-19 response. The good news was that we responded effectively enough to learn a great amount from Covid-19 – understandably, the debate will continue about how effectively.
In truth, no one was adequately prepared for such a widespread event. Combine a lack of preparation with a huge need to respond and you get a great, but costly, learning experience. Questions like “How will the economy fare?”, and “How long will they quarantine?”, and “when students (and workers) should return to work?” erupted. They followed with “When should mask mandate policies be removed?” and “will everyone take the vaccine when it comes out or will incentives need to be put in place?” These questions and answers were naturally debated, and they caused controversy as not everything was perfect. Still, whether it was perfect or not, the truth is that there was a crisis and there was a response. The response was very fast as borders closed, and everyone was told to stay at home and situationally wear a mask. Store supply and demand was tested (items were off the shelves quickly and were replenished). Stimulus checks were given. Vaccines were developed very quickly, and while there were setbacks, the good news was that the rollout of the vaccines quickened, and they were available to the public free of cost. Healthcare workers did a phenomenal job and were heroes during this dire time. The public also did its part overall (even though many didn’t want to cooperate). Lastly, the spread of misinformation about the disease had to be scrutinized over, and journalists and scientists were on the job to make sure we knew what was true from what was false – again, some will continue to debate. At the end of the day, our response improved over time. What we’ve learned from the pandemic is that a massive and life-altering crisis can happen, and there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty (and fear) and that it can change our ‘normal.’
So, as everyone has learned (and been humbled by in terms of the pandemic), a crisis is an unexpected or smoldering event that results in an emergency response. Serious and potentially devastating crisis events must be prepared for. If not, there is potential for company embarrassment, loss of money, loss of time, and loss of company or personal morale and loss of life. The good news is that we can prepare for a crisis, and we can learn from how other companies handled crisis events. The bad news is that corporations have not been known for having the best responses to crisis. No, in fact an emergence in crisis management is the direct result of the shortage of effective crisis management. So, now that we know that our crisis response can improve, it’s good to know that there won’t be an excuse anymore not to prepare for the worst events. With enough literature, statistics, and research out on the topic however we all can be prepared to handle what comes our way. If we start with foresight and a predictive mindset, it’s a brilliant way to start. Some of the best plans include having the foresight so see what crisis might come, evaluating plans for each crisis, and of course electing the best leaders, teams and spokespeople to become directly involved with every step of the crisis. With the right recommendations and the right people, a crisis response will break down into before, during, and after crisis stages. There is no doubt organizations can turn short-term adversity into long-term advantage.
When it comes to a crisis response, we can start by looking at the numbers, and see crisis management a little more clearly, but the most important statistics on crisis management are as follows: less than 30% of respondents in a recent global crisis survey felt that their businesses crisis management functions were well composed. Yes, and of course, over 70% of respondents said that technology would help significantly with the organization and outcome of a crisis response team. Most importantly, most (or over 70% of business leaders) reported having a crisis happen to them within a period of the last 5 years. Most of the individuals (more than 90% of those surveyed) believed that a crisis would happen to them within the next two years, but less than 35% of people believed that their company was prepared. According to these statistics, risk can’t be ignored. According to Deloitte, the areas that frequently involve the most vulnerability include a corporation’s reputation, cybercrime, and rumors that follow a company. Identifying crisis scenarios and having good communication within a great team was of significant help.
When a crisis does happen, it is important to be prepared for the event as to minimize any damage and have a good recovery response (so that things can return to stability). Effective crisis management, therefore, involves preparation for the event, survival of the event, and recovery from the event. We must be prepared for crisis because if one happens (bad press, social media attack, investigations, a sex scandal, etc.) and we aren’t prepared, the consequences can be devastating. We can, without too much difficulty, learn the best practices for handling crisis, and we can be at the top in terms of being prepared for anything that comes our way. True power lies in knowing what to do then activating flawlessly.
So, what are the best practices for Crisis management? They involve having a crisis management plan and updating it at least annually. They include having a crisis management team that is trained properly and practicing for crisis (crisis is a game of muscle memory). To take it a step further, standby documents consisting of narratives for crisis statements (particularly in the media) are helpful. A crisis management plan could include a general list of references and contacts (and who will play a crucial role in each crisis) to narratives or activation models of how to handle known crises when they arrive. These can serve as general guidelines or more thoroughly written examples can be created. Finally, primary and secondary spokespeople must be trained so they are ’60 MINUTES’ ready – your time, money, customers, and potentially your career, depends on it!