4 Steps to Creating a Crisis Management Plan

Is your business ready to handle crises that come your way?

4-steps-to-creating-a-crisis-management-plan
Natural disasters, economic downturns, pandemics — here’s how to prepare for contingencies

2020 has taught us many lessons. One of them being, you always need to have a Plan B.

Most small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are probably not familiar with crisis management. Up until the pandemic, most SMBs worst case scenario was having too many employees call out on a busy day.

But being ready for every contingency — natural disasters, economic downturns, or even pandemics — should be a part of every business owner’s strategic plans. If you’re ready for it, you’re ready to respond to it. If not, you may be wasting valuable (and profitable) time catching up.

Putting together a crisis management plan (CMP) prepares you and your employees for anything that comes their way. Here are steps to create a plan for your company.

Crisis Management Plan

1. Assess risk and impact 

Although few saw the pandemic coming, there may be risk factors in your geographical area or in your industry that pose a conceivable threat. Flooding, hurricanes, and wildfires may be seasonal but predictable. If weather-related, risk assessment should determine the likelihood of an occurrence. Based on the level of risk, you can develop a CMP that responds accordingly. Consider what the impact an eventuality will have on your business. Is it likely to cause long- or short-term problems? You’ll be able to develop your plan accordingly.

Based on the level of risk, you can develop a CMP that responds accordingly. Consider what the impact an eventuality will have on your business.

If there are industry risk factors that might impact your business — for example, supply chain issues or economic downturns — you can plan for those as well. With so many companies shifting in recent years to reducing inventory and manufacturing with just-in-time supplies, stockpiling has become almost obsolete. For many during the recent crisis, that lack of inventory means lack of revenue. Identify if the risk of not being able to meet demand during a crisis outweighs the cost of stockpiling.

Workplace violence is another aspect of crisis management. While no one believes it will happen at their company, it can. It can be in the form of a physical altercation between employees, a customer threatening a worker, or someone yelling obscenities inside your business.

Some risk is virtual: Fore example, bad online reviews, negative media attention, or a tone deaf social media post.

Determining whether your organization has exposure to this threat, and how you will quickly respond, could be critical to maintaining your business.

2. Identify alternatives

What can you do to minimize the threat to employees and your business?

Once you’ve assessed risk and potential impact, you can start to brainstorm your Plan B. What can you do to minimize the threat to employees and your business? If natural disasters threaten your storefront, are rolling shutters a worthy investment? You may look for options to activate them remotely if an incident occurs off-hours.

While public address systems are practically obsolete except in schools, do you have a means to communicate information quickly to all staff on your premises? If not, you should.

Emergency escape plans may also be necessary: these should be outlined in advance and describe options and communication commands for employees to shelter in place or move to exits quickly. Whether the threat of violence comes from a single person or an angry group, you’ll want to have a place to exit safely and quickly if possible.

If the threat is virtual, through unflattering reviews or comments, be ready to respond quickly and positively. If a customer writes a poor review, address the issue they raised and offer some form of compensation: a discount on their next visit is often sufficient. You may even ask the customer to remove the review in exchange for the discount. If the review is unfair, be prepared to politely disagree and professionally state your side of the story.

There may be other types of threats specific to your industry or location. Work with your team to assess them and create a plan that may reduce or eliminate the impact to you and your staff.

3. Build the plan

Once you’ve assessed risk and determined your options, build the plan itself. Brainstorm with employees to develop the best possible solutions for each identified threat. They will know, for example, where you could stockpile inventory safely, or how easily escape routes could be accessed by employees.

Write up a document that’s easy to understand and execute. While you may not be able to anticipate every possible contingency that comes your way, a written plan can help prepare you and your employees.

Include in your plan how you will communicate issues to staff members if problems occur off-hours. Set up some kind of “all-staff” communication string to notify everyone as quickly and effectively as possible.

4. Communicate widely and often

Most employees will be grateful to see their company not only has a CMP, but distributes and communicates it openly. Staff members are well aware of threats in the world and will be happy you have their backs.

Start with your management team: they will need to know their responsibility for their own groups and what they should do in the event of a situation that arises. They’ll need to understand their role fully and be prepared to act. Panic makes it difficult to remember what you need to do. If they’re prepared, they’ll be in a better position to move quickly and activate the plan.

Have managers review the plan(s) with their groups once you’ve developed them, and periodically as a refresher. Every 6 months might be a good review point. Remind staffers that everyone has a role to play in crisis management. Answer their questions calmly and openly to help mitigate stress, but work to assure the plan is for their protection, not to frighten them.

Have managers review the plan(s) with their groups once you’ve developed them, and periodically as a refresher. Every 6 months might be a good review point.

You may consider drills: fire drills are a great way to prepare staffers for an emergency. The same holds true for other crises. Rehearsing what you will do in the event of a problem reinforces everyone’s role and can even help find cracks in the armor. You may find areas that need improvement, or be able to determine the solutions you’ve come up with are the best possible options.

Create a plan, communicate, train

While no one wants a crisis in the workplace, they can occur. Creating a plan to lessen its impact, communicating it widely, and training staff on what to do can be critical. For some situations it could save lives: for others it could reduce damage to your business and future. CMPs are an important safeguard for your staff and your organization; if you don’t have them in place, taking the time today to create them could be crucial for the future.

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