How to Build a Blueprint for Crisis Management
Even the most inexperienced entrepreneur will tell you that going into business always carries a certain amount of risk, but those same inexperienced entrepreneurs probably never expected those risks to include things like natural disasters, economic crashes, or acts of war.
Indeed, events like those are so rare that even accomplished business owners and bureaucrats fail to properly plan for them, which only makes it more unfortunate when those rare events eventually happen. In one of my previous blogs, I discussed the importance of having a blueprint for crisis management, and how disastrous a lack of such blueprint can be. In this blog, I’d like to go over just what such a blueprint should contain, and how small business owners can begin developing these sorts of contingency plans for themselves.
Let’s start by outlining the three key steps for developing your Crisis Management Blueprint:
Assess the crisis quickly and efficiently by analyzing all available information (government statements as well as trusted news sources) and identifying key points and patterns. Once you know what you’re up against, use the information to review weak links and trigger points throughout your business model: clients, employees, supply lines, distribution methods, etc. Determine what could negatively impact each area and how the impacted areas could in turn affect other areas. Now that you’ve determined your most vulnerable areas, create a list of achievable goals to address them and realistic policies on how to reach them. When making your plans, be sure to make back up plans as well, and backups for those plans while you’re at it. Ideally you won’t have to rely on these backups, but these aren’t ideal circumstances to begin with, so you need to be ready for failure. Do not wish for the best-case scenarios to save you, but do not give up hope either. Prepare for the worst, but try to maintain morale all the while.
Failing to act is generally worse than taking an action that fails. That’s not to say you should rush into a poorly though out plan, rather, do not spend so much time planning that you end up acting too late. Once you have plans to act on, keep the people involved updated on what those plans are, how they will work, and why you are pursuing them. If possible, have a designated spokesperson or team of spokespeople to deliver the information. Providing your audience with faces they can associate with the information they’re being given helps reassure them, as does allowing them a means of communicating their questions or concerns.
As the plan progresses, be sure to measure its performance with the right metrics. Do not look away from unfortunate outcomes or ignore results you’re not happy with, as this will only make matters worse. Indeed, you should use the information you gain during execution to adapt or improve the plan, never stick to a plan that isn’t working. You will be faced with many hard decisions, and you will inevitably miss certain marks or make mistakes. Take responsibility for whatever results occur, and please do not try to hide anything, as the truth being revealed by someone else will only make it worse for you.
Right then, now that you know how to determine your plan, it’s up to you to develop it.
Each business will have its own unique factors and needs to consider when building their blueprint, but there are still some general factors you should consider.
For example, businesses with the positions or means to enact remote work policies would do well to pursue them immediately. If the company can ensure their qualifying employees are provided with secure data and devices, as well as setting up schedules for meetings and dedicated working hours, then the employees can continue to perform their duties while remaining safe.
Speaking of staying safe, do not encourage your employees to work while they are sick or struggling. Making your employees perform while they are still trying to recover will only prolong the recovery process and may affect the quality of their work. Try to be lenient and understanding of sick leave during times of crisis, your employees have obligations that need to be attended to during these hard times. If tracking sick or vacation days proves to be a hassle, then allotting PTO based on accrued days that employees can then use for their absences may be a better option.
Unfortunately, sometimes there simply is no better option, like when a company must decide to lay off or furlough its staff. If there is no other way, then make sure to be compassionate when delivering the news. Try to keep records of employment and assure those who have been let go that they are welcome to reapply when the crisis is over. Remember that such drastic actions tend to come with legal requirements before they can be pursued, such as providing certain notification and timeframes. Once the difficult part is done, see to it that you communicate with the remaining staff. Do your best to alleviate their stress and tackle their concerns about the security of their jobs, as well as updating them on all plans moving forward.
Treat the situation with the humility and respect you would want to receive, your responses to the crisis will be remembered after it is over. Depending on the size of your business and the impact of the crisis, there are certain steps you could take to try and avoid layoffs.
It may sound daunting, but consider having executives and other high ranking members take a pay cut so as to secure funds to pay the other employees. You may also want to consider shortening schedules to keep people employed while still being able to deliver the products or services your customers expect from you. Shortening hours while still maintaining staff now is a short-term inconvenience compared to trying to interview and hire new employees after the situation is over. Strive to maintain benefits for your employees while doing so, as taking away your employees’ medical coverage will severely impact morale. If possible, offer childcare services, mental health services, or access to other such resources for the employees who need it, as this could greatly assist them in being able to perform their duties.
Businesses that have the means to operate online should prioritize their ecommerce operations, while those that cannot should carefully determine if their services are truly “essential.” Temporarily closing your store is unfortunate, don’t get me wrong, but it leaves the opportunity to reopen again later. If you remain open and end up contributing to the situation, the negative press could ruin your brand. Furthermore, try to have multiple backups of your company data, both onsite, offsite, and online. Storing information on cloud servers is certainly useful, but maintaining a physical drive with information in a different location from the main business will be a life saver if your main location suffers damage or if the digital backups end up corrupted or inaccessible.
Government resources such as small business loans or business interruption insurance may be available, but the nature of bureaucracy makes acquiring such assistance difficult, especially during times of crisis. Keep up to date on what resources are available, as well as what the qualifications are, as missing small details or failing to file the proper forms on time could cost you the support your business so dearly needs.
If possible, consider adapting your business to meet the needs of the crisis, such as contributing to the delivery of supplies or repurposing your facilities to produce essential items that are in high demand. These sorts of changes have been put in place during times of war, and can prove highly effective at not only keeping your company in the black, but also generating positive brand awareness.
Do not assume that you can easily return to normal operations after the crisis has subsided. Major events have a habit of reshaping people’s expectations of what is normal, and the changes that result from them can become the new status quo depending on how effective they are. As such, you should be open to partnerships with rivals or companies outside of your industry. If you can find a way to perform better by cooperating with another entity, then you should act on it, as it could be what saves both of your companies from going under. It may even lead to a merger down the line, but focus on the present for now.
More than anything, you need to accept that the situation will have a negative impact on your business. Acknowledge that previously set goals or progress milestones are going to be missed, the main priority now is keeping the company afloat. Be willing to receive bad news without punishing the messenger, you should actually welcome reports regarding lack of success as this information will be critical. Be understanding when plans don’t work or when strategies fall through, and avoid penalizing people for telling you the truth.
Crisis management is, by its very nature, unpleasant, but that is why it is so important for you to have a carefully crafted blueprint to follow. Even the most experienced entrepreneurs will tell you that there is no guarantee for success, and as I mentioned earlier, your blueprint should include options to take should your business prove unable to survive the crisis.
It’s an unfortunate place to be in, but it’s even worse without the blueprint, so follow my advice and figure out what you and your business can do before it’s too late.