In moments of crisis, it can be hard to see beyond the overwhelm. You may be faced with the need to keep employees safe, manage productivity, protect revenue—or all three at once—in an environment that’s constantly changing. But often in crisis, there’s opportunity. As the leader of your business, taking hold of that opportunity first falls to you—and so does the responsibility to serve and guide your people.
To do that, you need a system. Examples of systems built to endure a crisis are everywhere. Take the human body, for one. It’s an amazing example of interconnected systems that go into action when a situation calls for it, whether it’s an adrenaline rush or a rapid deployment of white blood cells. When you view your business as an interconnected web of systems, it should likewise include responses for both positive changes and negative ones.
Here are the five steps you need to create a crisis management system for your business, so you can navigate challenging times while also setting up your company to be stronger in the future.
(You can download our free EMyth Guide to Crisis Management for a printable crisis-plan workbook.)
1. Assess the current situation
Take a moment to baseline your business, so you can see what’s true about the business at this moment or last week or two weeks ago. Not tomorrow.
In the case of a crisis, you need clarity and perspective before you jump into making decisions. Creating a business baseline will give you a clear picture of how the current crisis is actually impacting your business right now.
Here are a few questions that will help you develop that baseline. The key is to quantify the relevant impacts. Imagine that you’re looking at your company from the outside and observing what’s happening.
- Review your current financial statements as of right now. If you don’t have those at hand, get them from your accountant or bookkeeper. How are your numbers today different from what you expected or experienced prior to the crisis?
- Review your product or service capabilities. At this moment, do you need to increase or decrease production? By how much? What types of products and services are most needed?
- Review your staffing. Do you need more people or fewer people right now? What impacts has this crisis had on filling the positions you need?
- Review your customers. Are you gaining or losing customers? Gaining or losing sales? What’s the cause of this?
2. Identify what your people need
Every day, you ask your employees to care for your business as much as you do, and this care develops as you care for your employees. In times of crisis, it’s your opportunity to shine in demonstrating this care. This shows up through different actions. For example:
Simply ask yourself, “How can I lead my people through this crisis?”
Give your employees a way to express their concerns, fears, challenges. (Be sensitive as to whether this should be public, where people can draw strength from each other; private, to protect individual concerns; or anonymous.)
Ask your people directly what they need. For example, “Is there anything at all we can do to support you?”
Recognize that people may be impacted differently by changes that are occurring, and so they may respond differently based on their individual circumstances.
Once you’ve thought about what your employees may need from their work and from you in this moment—both tangibly (like time off to care for family) or intangibly (like having a supportive work environment)—develop a communication plan that addresses that. This messaging is equally important whether you’re striving to keep your people, adding new people, changing the work they do or letting them go.
Here are some questions to get you started.
- How will you communicate with your team and how often? Should it be in one-on-one conversations, team meetings or email? Is it daily, weekly or as needed? Does it just need to come from you, or do you need to prepare your managers to communicate certain things as well? (Consistency builds stability!)
- What message does your team need to hear? This could include your personal outlook, specific instructions, decisions you‘ve made or will be making, etc.
- What do you need to know from them to develop your plan?
3. Discover what your customers need today
Design an honest communication strategy that not only serves your customers but gives them a sense of certainty, stability and unity when things feel out of control.
Depending on the type of crisis, your customers may be in critical need or may need something different than what you currently offer. In this step, you’ll review your different target markets and the products and services you offer. Start by answering these questions.
- Has anything changed regarding what your customers need?
- Has anything changed regarding what you should offer?
- Are these changes temporary? If so, how temporary?
- Are these changes different depending on different demographics or market types?
- Are there other markets or services that you should consider and would be prepared to deliver on quickly?
In light of your responses to these questions, what type of communications do you need to deliver and when? What do you need to communicate to help reduce doubts, fears and knowledge gaps, and to support productive decision-making for your customers? Put yourself in their shoes as you brainstorm any product or service changes you need to make. Then develop a communication plan that speaks to those changes.
- How will you communicate with your customers, and how often?
- What message do they need to hear?
- What mediums or platforms will you use to communicate with them? And how will you adapt your messaging for each one?
- What do you need to know from them?
4. Envision your business post-crisis
A crisis is a turning point. No matter which way the turning point leads, consider it an opportunity to move toward something better for you and your company. This means that you have to define where you want your business to be when the crisis has passed.
To start, set an appropriate time horizon to focus on. It might be three months, six months, or even one or two years from now. Choose a date where you can imagine you’ll be completely on the other side of this major turning point. With this date in mind, think about how you want your business to look in terms of:
- Products and services
- Finances (e.g., revenues and expenses)
For example, you may decide that you want your business to go back to normal—that once the crisis has passed, you’ll provide the same products and services to the same customers in the same way. Or you may foresee changes in your delivery method, the products or services you’ll offer, or the types of customers you’ll have—either out of necessity or opportunity.
Now, think about your employees. Consider whether you’ll maintain the same positions you have currently, make changes to how you recruit and hire, and/or do something differently within your management structure.
This is an envisioning exercise. You’re thinking forward to how you want your business to operate, so you need to see past the crisis to the way you imagine circumstances will be. And you may need to consider multiple scenarios.
5. Strategize your short-term future
Experiencing a crisis often includes a period of uncertainty, adjustment and transition. If this is the case, you’re going to need some short-term strategies to respond to any number of unknowns. It’s vital that you have the perspective of your long-term vision (that you created in step 4) before you consider short-term strategies. You want to be sure that the short-term decisions you make will move you toward that vision—or at least not block you from getting there.
Because your short-term plan needs to accommodate unpredictability and dependence on outside factors, you’ll have to devise a series of triggers and actions. You can’t predict the future, but you can track metrics that inform your choices.
In this step, you’ll develop a set of triggers that tell you when to take certain actions.
A trigger can be a date, a metric or some external event. For example:
- Dates. Set a specific date to look at various sales and production metrics.
- Metrics. Set a specific metric, like a sales number, that dictates action no matter when you hit that number.
- Events. Identify an external event that you could reasonably anticipate, such as a government regulation or a change in the current circumstances.
For each trigger, plan a course of action that responds to it.
This is a great time to bring in help to brainstorm and get a variety of ideas out on the table. Keep these things in mind as you work on your short-term strategy:
- Everyone involved in this process must be clear on your future goal: the outcome you envisioned in step 4.
- Actions should always be in alignment with your values and brand.
- Actions should take you as close as possible to the outcome you want to achieve. If you do have to take some “backward” steps, plan them with a view toward getting back to your vision.
- This is a time to be conservative. The very nature of a crisis is an unknown. The purpose of this step is to help you make informed choices rather than emotional ones—but keep them conservative.
This is a decision-making process. The idea is to make a proactive plan in advance, so you can make decisions based on metrics and not emotions. It requires you to make decisions about spending, staffing, production and delivery based on current and changing circumstances.
In crisis, people often go into survival mode. It’s realistic, but we all do better together than apart, and as a business leader, you’re also a community leader. This is a great time for you to be a resource rather than a hoarder of resources. It’s a time to be helpful and supportive to others—and this includes your competitors. So share your resources, your ideas, your communications! This may be the first crisis you’ve faced, but it won’t be the last. How you act now matters. You have an opportunity to lift up and inspire your community.
If you’d like a printable version of this five-step plan, with tips, definitions and worksheets, download the EMyth Guide to Crisis Management.
And if you feel like now is a time when you’d benefit from the clarity, perspective and support of an EMyth Coach, we’re here to help.