Crisis response: Don't just plan. Practice.

Flex your muscle memory

​To respond effectively to crises, developing a plan that's just filed away isn't enough. One key to crisis response? Practice. And strengthening your organization's muscle memory so it can react quickly when critical events occur.

Why should organizations place a greater focus on crisis response?

Because simply stated, we live and work in volatile times. The world is being deluged with a rising number of crises across industries.

The list of events that could trigger a crisis is extensive, including regulatory action, supply chain issues, rumors, organizational malfeasance, terrorism, product tampering, and more. More crises can mean greater costs. For example, we're seeing an increase in natural disasters and cyber incidents. The Economist states that the number of disasters around the globe has more than quadrupled since 1970 to approximately 400 a year.

What are the shortcomings of a crisis response plan?

​There are no shortcomings to having a thorough and well-thought-out crisis response plan. In fact, having a plan is critical to help mitigate the impacts of a crisis and sustain stakeholder confidence. But even the most comprehensive plan, on its own, isn't enough.

If there is a downside to plans, it's a matter of how they're used—or not used. To prevent crisis response plans from simply taking up space on a shelf or in a computer file, it's important that organizations:

  • Regularly revisit and refresh crisis plans
  • Make sure the processes within those plans are understood and practical
  • Ensure that relevant teams are trained and ready to respond
  • Schedule recurring simulations and exercises, so doing what's necessary becomes second nature when a crisis strikes

When organizations revisit, refresh, and rehearse their plans, they can accelerate more quickly into an effective crisis response.

What’s the greatest challenge when responding to a crisis?

​Obviously, that depends on the organization and the type of crisis. But there are some challenges we commonly see, such as:

  • Lack of clarity about who's in charge
  • Crisis response plans that don't have buy-in from leadership, thereby resulting in confusion and a potentially disjointed response
  • An executive team that's so focused on the crisis that it neglects the core elements of the business

In an October 2017 Dbriefs poll, respondents weighed in on this question as well, citing their greatest challenges as:

  • Lack of training or crisis simulation exercises: 29.6 percent
  • Lack of a crisis plan or an outdated crisis plan: 15.5 percent
  • No clear understanding of roles and responsibilities: 15.2 percent
  • Inability to respond quickly: 12.7 percent
  • Unsure of which challenge is the greatest: 27 percent

What are some keys to a successful crisis response plan?

There are some critical tactics companies should build into their crisis response plans to help mitigate damage and preserve stakeholder trust and confidence. These tactics, which can help organizations prepare for events that have wide-ranging impacts, include:

  • Response organization. A core set of leaders responsible for responding to a crisis should be identified. These leaders should have a deep understanding of the organization, be authorized to make certain decisions, and know how to pull in other leaders or team members as the situation dictates. Ideally, they have been trained in crisis response by taking part in exercises that leverage scenarios relevant to their organization and industry.
  • Ongoing crisis monitoring. While companies should employ monitoring mechanisms in normal times, an organization experiencing a crisis situation or a potential crisis should actively monitor social and traditional media channels for content that may go viral and to keep a pulse on the event. In addition, it is beneficial to set forth defined and open channels within the organization for employees to feed related issues up to the crisis management team for resolution.
  • Common operating picture. A single overview of relevant information during the crisis, updated over time, enables coordinated and timely decision making among leaders. An effective common operating picture answers three questions: The "what." (What do we know or not know?) The "so what." (What are the impacts of the crisis?) And the "now what." (What decisions and actions should we take?)
  • Stakeholder management. Managing and prioritizing stakeholders should begin well before a crisis occurs. By building a relationship of trust with stakeholders—proactively engaging them, gauging the impact and influence they may have in different types of crises, and building ongoing relationships—organizations can more effectively engage with stakeholders during a crisis event.

How can you jump-start your crisis planning?

​In today's volatile world, crises are occurring more and more frequently. Therefore, it could well be a matter of when—not if—your organization is hit.

Ask yourself five questions today in advance of a crisis:

  • Is my organization prepared for a crisis? Really?
  • How well do I understand my organization's potential crisis risks?
  • Do I know who's ready to lead during a crisis? Are they up for the challenge?
  • Are we ready to act decisively when we experience uncertainty?
  • What's our reputation worth, and who owns it?

And to improve your overall crisis preparation? Practice, practice, practice.

There's no guarantee that regular simulations and response exercises will result in "practice makes perfect." In a crisis situation, that may be too much to ask. But flexing your muscle memory can help your organization be better prepared when crisis strikes.

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