Planning for the Unthinkable

COVID-19 has made crisis managers of all of us, 24/7, as organizations make decisions that impact customers, employees, suppliers, investors and other stakeholders. The word has to get out: How will the business operate? Will it have to close? Will workers lose their jobs? What precautions is it taking to protect the public? Not only do stakeholders need to know, but the way in which an organization responds and communicates what it is doing can affect its brand image.

Coming up with a workable strategy when it seems people are shooting at you from all sides is overwhelming and disheartening. The stress can set off tempers and strain relationships, especially if people do not have clear, defined roles and a strong chain of command.

inconceivable

That is why advance planning is critical. But, how does one plan for something they never anticipated or experienced before? Ask yourself ‘what would happen if ______________ occurs’ and try to come up with scenarios. With 20/20 hindsight we now know a pandemic would cause store closings, employees having to work from home, mass layoffs, supply chain disruptions, cash flow crises and more.

These situations also happen in other events that can be anticipated and planned for such as natural disasters, man-made catastrophes and strikes. A plane crash or mass shooting could tax the resources of a local hospital, but the hospital probably has a contingency plan ready just in case and has trained its staff how respond if one occurs. The applicable techniques for handling one kind of crisis usually can be deployed in others. With coronavirus, what is different is the scope of the event.

My former colleague at City College, Michael Rogovin, has prepared an excellent outline of the five steps to be followed in disaster planning. The article provides a useful framework for developing a contingency plan to respond to any kind of disaster. Effective communication, he states, is second in importance only to having first responders secure the safety of people.

No two disasters are alike, and the maxim “expected the unexpected” certainly applies to disaster planning and crisis management. However, if you plan ahead, test your plan and use it to navigate through the turbulence, your chances of success increase substantially. The resources you need will be at the ready, your team members will know their roles and how to carry them out, and you will be prepared to communicate with your stakeholders.

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