Crisis management: What you need to know to turn 2020 around

It is often said about life and the same can be said about business: the only certainty we have is the uncertain. Periods of crisis and challenges will happen, it is how we prepare for, adapt to and surmount these difficult times that determine outcomes and long-term recovery. Covid-19 was unexpected and devastating in many ways. It is also a reminder that shocks can arise from nowhere, and when they do the best responses combine professionalism, level-headedness and humanity.


The periods before, during and after a crisis all need to be treated with equal due diligence and care; under-preparedness for a crisis will damage even the strongest responses while businesses may falter if they rest on the laurels of well-intentioned but static crisis management plans. This means ensuring your business is optimally robust during the good times, and that crisis management techniques prioritise swift action and flexibility over and above rigid plans that may hinder rather than help. Clear and timely communication is vital, as is the need to respond with empathy and understanding. People make a business and therefore deserve as much attention as profit.


From a purely business perspective, it is important to plan for, and be robust enough for, unexpected challenges of any kind. This means careful planning and optimal initial health, but also the agility to adapt to crises as they unfurl. This will help to minimise damage, optimise the chances of positive outcomes, and harness the strength to weather the storm and come out the other side.


The importance of crisis management for businesses


Crises have the potential to impact businesses in multiple ways, including but not limited to:


  • Financial health
  • Reputation
  • Staff morale


Having a strong crisis management strategy before a crisis arrives is crucial. It’s important to note, however, that all plans should be flexible. Having a plan that details actionable steps in a crisis will be helpful, but keeping the exact content of those steps vague will allow for creative problem solving that reacts to the specifics of the crisis. If a plan is either too tightly defined or merely exists to tick boxes then it’s unlikely that will be enough to carry an organisation through a challenging period.


A competent crisis management strategy will include continual risks assessments (both pre- and, importantly, during a crisis), highlight responsibilities of individuals and departments and will often include more questions than answers, such as:


  • Who is responsible for crisis management in each particular area of the business?
  • How do we join these up?
  • How do we safeguard our people and their jobs?
  • Which areas of the business are most susceptible to a certain type of crisis?
  • In certain scenarios, what are the order of priorities?
  • Who is responsible for communications, internally and externally?


Posing as many hypothetical questions as possible allows more answers to emerge, both prior to and during a crisis, as well as encouraging the kind of creative and strategic thinking required in highly-pressurised situations.


Three examples of crisis management techniques:


Establish a crisis ‘crack’ team


It’s a good idea to have a team of individuals to form a crisis team, who engage and communicate outside periods of crisis. This should be separate from the senior management team (although may include senior staff) in order to allow some autonomy and objectivity. It should comprise various skill sets, not merely departmental differences but skills unique to those individuals, for example: creative thinking, the ability to remain calm under pressure, and analytical skills.


Ongoing risk assessment and mitigation


Risk assessment should not just happen before a crisis happens but must be continually performed during the time of crisis. It’s important to act swiftly as challenges arise, but businesses must also be able to pause and to assess the situation as it changes. The situation, either externally or internally or both, is likely to change all the time, independent of action already taken by the business or as a result of it.


Monitor and evaluate the impact every business decision and external factors make and adapt your crisis management plan accordingly.


Interim managers


Hiring interim executives to work through periods of crisis is a commonly used strategy for a number of reasons. Although internal teams can respond to organisation-specific issues and understand the business context, external executives offer the benefit of a ‘birds eye view’, without being bogged down or clouded by the specifics of an organisation.


Interim managers are also highly experienced in managing transformation and change, including overseeing periods that can prove challenging for businesses and their staff, such as redundancies, restructure, buyouts and so on. This makes them particularly useful during times of unexpected crisis.


How can interim managers implement or guide crisis management strategies?


The nature of interim work means interim managers have the necessary skills to steer organisations through difficult periods. They are:


  • Adaptable
  • Experienced in performing under pressure
  • Used to working in new situations and environments
  • Used to working under negative circumstances and turning these around


Not only do interim managers have the necessary skills for times of crisis, the success of their career relies on their ability to perform well for a specific purpose for a finite period of time.


Oakwood Resources can help to accelerate your business requirements by sourcing interim managers who are assessed based on their skills and experience and who can work alongside you to deliver successful outcomes for your business operational needs.


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