Nothing in life is certain and without a crisis management plan in place, particular tragedies and crises can be debilitating for your business.
“If you have a vision for your company, then part of the vision should withstand possible scenarios that you’re going to encounter,” says Joe Lewis, LIC, chief operating officer for Yard Solutions, based in Groveport, Ohio.
Dan Engling, vice president of safety and industrial health services for KERAMIDA, Inc., points out that often a crisis becomes one because it was not anticipated.
“Responsible, forward-looking companies will see the value in preparing and verifying preparations,” Engling says. “This is done most effectively before the crisis begins.”
Deb Hileman, president and CEO of the Institute for Crisis Management, says the various crises over the past three years have revealed a deep lack of preparedness across all kinds of companies.
“No organization is immune from a crisis that can harm revenue, profits, market share, regulatory environment, brand promise, community reputation and even its very survival,” she says. “Management teams who fail to prepare for probable issues place their organizations in jeopardy.”
What To Incidents Plan For
When creating your crisis management plan, consider the likelihood of specific hazards occurring. Lewis says while a hurricane isn’t something they’d need to prepare for in Ohio, tornadoes are a possibility they should have a plan of action for, even if they are rare.
“Deciding the likelihood of crisis can be as critical to your business as understanding your core technical competencies,” Engling says. “The easiest way of assessing this is to plot historical events over time and project that trend into the future. However, this can lead to some major issues like wrongly attributing effects to unrelated causes.”
Expert groups can be brought in to understand and identify diverse categories of risk and risk avoidance methods. Engling says company leaders should understand when it’s time to bring in support. Hileman says most companies are somewhat prepared for the obvious crises like natural disasters but are unprepared for ‘smoldering crises.’
These are ongoing problems that can result in full-blown crises like sexual harassment allegations, issues of fraud or even possible workplace shootings. Lewis says it’s well within the realm of possibility for a disgruntled employee or an unwell individual to decide to target your facility.
“Although the possibility of having a workplace violence incident is remote for most companies, the impact such an event can have is palpable, especially if the company fails to take even basic precautions to prepare its employees for such an incident,” Hileman says. “Every organization should conduct active shooter drills at least annually.”
While the word ‘crisis’ might just have you thinking about a natural disaster, this can include everything from not getting your H-2B workers to the death of critical personnel.
“One crisis that we, unfortunately, see often is the unexpected passing of senior executives,” Engling says. “When this happens, it frequently sends the company into a spiral of realizing just how much of the critical business operations were resting on the shoulders of a visionary who is no longer present. The placement of a board or a successive and overlapping executive structure is a type of crisis management control.”
COVID-19 is an example of a crisis that many were unprepared for when it came to multiple employees getting sick and having to quarantine at the same time.
Hileman says a crisis management plan should include playbooks to address a number of situations, including:
- Death or incapacitation of a senior executive
- Environmental crisis or natural disaster
- Workplace accidents, injuries or fatalities
- Government investigation or other litigation
- Employee illegal or unethical action
- Cybersecurity issue
- Allegations of discrimination or harassment
- Smoldering issue or anticipated crisis
- Sudden labor disruption
- Activist activity, protest or social media attack
- Workplace violence
Engling adds that if you work in one particular economic sector without diversification, second-degree risks to that sector should be considered as first-degree risks to your company.
Elements of Crisis Management Plan
Lewis views crisis management planning as part of any employer’s responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace for their employees. Like any other aspect of the business, you need to identify known and potential hazards and how to respond to those scenarios.
“The intent of a crisis management plan is to minimize the short-term and long-term impact a crisis has on the operation,” he says. “If the operation is stopped, so will invoicing, and so on. The best way to care for your internal and external clients is to develop a realistic plan for different crises.”
A single person can be in charge of developing the company’s crisis management plan, but the ownership and senior management team should review it as they will be key to the chain of command. Lewis says, like any other training program, don’t spend time trying to reinvent the wheel when other people have already developed crisis management plans you can adapt to your organization.
Hileman says it is best to start with an audit of your current processes and assess what types of risks and vulnerabilities are likely to occur or would inflict the most damage. She suggests having candid discussions with leaders on what ‘keeps them up at night’ to identify key risks.
Engling says certain fundamental questions should be asked like “Is the anticipated effect of a certain realized risk something we can live with or is it significant enough to establish controls?” and “Is this risk something that is a result of our own actions and preventable, or should the control be more of a bracing for response, should it occur?”
After identifying these likely crises you need to address, Hileman recommends developing scenario-specific playbooks that include a situation overview, crisis team member roles and responsibilities, communication priorities, stakeholder list, anticipated questions, key messages, initial media statement and social media posts.
For each scenario, you need to define the crisis management team and chain of command, as it can vary depending on the situation. Each crisis should have a trigger that causes the point of contact to begin the plan. Lewis points out that communication breaks down in a crisis, which is why you need to have primary, secondary and tertiary means of communication.
Lewis advises keeping your plans straightforward and not overly complicated.
“When a crisis happens, and I can speak from experience, if it’s too complex, it won’t be followed,” Lewis says. “People don’t rise to the occasion. They fall to the level of their training.”
Preparing for Crises
A crisis management plan does your team no good if everyone who has a role in the procedure is unaware of its existence. Each person in the plan should know the chain of command, their role and the available resources.
“Everyone on staff should know how to respond to the risks that are most likely and most preventable,” Engling says. “In the event of a tornado, the event itself is not preventable, but injury may be significantly reduced if your staff takes certain and decisive action. Proper vehicle and equipment operation is a major part of preventing workplace injury. These are the types of crises for which you should train your staff. Leadership succession, financial recovery plans, and other leadership-oriented controls are often not well served by being broadcast throughout the ranks.”
Lewis encourages roleplaying the plan to ensure everyone involved is prepared.
“Crisis plans should be reviewed, exercised and updated at least annually,” Hileman says. “Crisis exercises need not be expensive; tabletop exercises are an affordable way to test the plan and the team’s preparedness to respond to a variety of issues.”
Because company personnel changes often, Lewis stresses training your team on the plan and reviewing it for practicality because things change. Engling adds that if crisis management planning seems beyond your ability, don’t be afraid to work with a consultant.
“The investment in crisis planning and preparedness is a pittance compared to the steep cost of a crisis for the unprepared management team,” Hileman says. “Our tenet: prepare and prevent or repair and repent.”
This article was published in the Jan/Feb issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Edge magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.