Many cultures share the annual ritual of spring cleaning. Jews scour their homes to remove all traces of leavening in preparation for Passover. People of Iranian descent engage in khaneh tekani, or “shaking the house,” for the Persian New Year. The Chinese welcome Spring Festival by cleaning their homes to sweep out bad luck and make room for good fortune to come. Whatever belief or tradition motivates us, we can’t help but come away from the process feeling more focused and in control of our lives.
You can restore that same sense of focus and control at work by giving your organization’s crisis management plan a thorough refresh this spring. Given everything that’s happened in the world since COVID hit—the rise of cancel culture and employee activism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, the surge in ransomware attacks that paralleled the shift to remote work, and growing scrutiny of how organizations are responding to social and political issues, to name just a few—you may already be on borrowed time.
Think of it as preventive maintenance
Relying on an outdated plan to get you through a crisis is like counting on an aging air conditioner in a record heat wave. In either case, the hotter it gets the higher the probability of something bad happening at the worst possible moment. Calling in an expert to give your a/c system a tune-up every spring before temperatures soar is a small price to pay to prevent a bigger and potentially much more expensive problem in the dead of summer. Your crisis management plan should get the same preventive care.
Clear the cobwebs
The middle of a crisis is no time to realize that key members of the crisis team have left the company or that you have no way to reach the managers of a newly acquired subsidiary after hours. The first step is to make sure that all essential contacts and data are accurate and up to date. This includes new executives, crisis team members and subject matter experts who need to be added and brought up to speed on the plan and what they are responsible for. Are all offices, facilities and operations accounted for? Any changes in the company’s outside legal counsel or reputation management, cybersecurity, accounting, financial or other advisers? What about critical IT, HR, telecommunications and supply chain partners?
Update for evolving risks
Next, consider any new risks and areas of vulnerability for the organization, such as changes in the competitive landscape and legal and regulatory environments; new products, services, acquisitions or business ventures; or longstanding policies or practices that have fallen out of sync with the expectations of customers and society. Pay close attention to relationships with critical suppliers, technology providers, marketing partners and similar third parties, and how their missteps, reputational or otherwise, could reflect on your organization and put reputation and relationships at risk. And with employees becoming increasingly vocal in advocating for social and political change both in and out of the workplace, it’s a good time to review and update your organization’s social media policy and establish a clear “politics at work” policy with guidelines for political speech and related activities both on the job and while off duty.
Cut the clutter
The more you try to pack into a crisis plan to “cover all the bases,” the less useful it becomes. Trim excess bulk with a little Marie Kondo-style decluttering. There are many things that don’t belong in your crisis plan, but here’s a good starting point—if information can be stored and accessed more easily in the cloud, put it there. Storing contact data, response protocols, pre-approved stakeholder materials and other critical resources in a secure, online crisis portal not only makes future updating chores much easier. It enhances data security and ensure that all members of the crisis team have the most up-to-date information and documents at their fingertips wherever they are as messages and materials evolve.
Give it some exercise
Schedule a crisis exercise to put your updated plan and crisis team through their paces before summer vacation schedules get in the way. A tabletop crisis “game” is a good way to familiarize new team members with the plan and make sure roles and responsibilities are crystal clear. A crisis game requires only a few hours of people’s time and can be particularly useful in uncovering additional areas of vulnerability that need to be addressed, signaling that the organization may be overdue for a more comprehensive reputation risk assessment and refresh of its plans and processes.