April 30, 2019

A Contingency Plan Can Guide You Through A Crisis

 |  By: Mike Opperman

No one can ever be completely prepared for a crisis to take place. But there are actions you can take to minimize the impact of a crisis event, and even come out better when it’s over. 
The key is to be prepared, build a plan and hope you never have to implement it. 
No matter if the catastrophic event is an act of God or actions taken by an activist, there are steps you can take to prepare.

Use peacetime wisely. “Peacetime planning can equal crisis survival,” says Chuck Sanger, a crisis communications expert and president of CS Communications. “A crisis is, at its core, uncomfortable. That makes it critical for farmers to make strategic crisis decisions outside of the throes of a crisis.” 

Develop scenarios for any imaginable crisis event and stage exercises to practice how to respond in those situations. “It’s not about anticipating all of the possible scenarios or checking boxes,” says Richard Levick, chairman and CEO of LEVICK, a strategic communications agency, in a Forbes article. “It’s about changing the DNA so people act in crisis, not freeze.”

Consider building a ‘wheel of crisis’, suggest Ian Mitroff and Murat Alpaslan, professors at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. This is literally a wheel with a spinner in the middle and potential crisis events on the outside edge.

“Take turns spinning the wheel, and when it stops, discuss all the normal and abnormal crises of that particular kind you can imagine,” says Mitroff and Alpaslan. “Don’t exclude any possibility, however bizarre.” 

Strike down the silos. Not literally. Rather make sure all employee teams are well versed in not only their own responsibilities but the responsibilities of other teams, Levick recommends. 

Start at the top. “Senior staff need to roll up their sleeves and troubleshoot along with managers and supervisors,” Levick says. “A crisis is where leadership earns its money. Almost anyone can handle peacetime.”

Reach out to local officials and decision makers. If you are going through a practice crisis response, have them as part of the process, Levick says. Their support may come in handy should a real crisis happen.

Consider creating your own internal assassins, suggest Mitroff and Alpaslan. Empower a small group of employees and middle managers to use their knowledge of your company and business to cook up ways to destroy it, either from the inside or outside. 

In one large U.S. company Mitroff and Alpaslan worked with, they designated a group of ten senior executives as internal assassins. They walked the group through several of the company’s manufacturing facilities, both during the working day and after office hours. They explained the case study in a Harvard Business Review article. 

“As the executives began to see the plants through terrorist eyes, they almost reluctantly started pointing out where they would cause the most damage,” Mitroff and Alpaslan explain. “The scenarios were frightening both because they exposed weaknesses in the system and because they were plausible.” 

Hire someone to attack you. Not an actual attack, but a staged assault to identify weaknesses and test responses, say Mitroff and Alpaslan. This could include lawyers, professional public relations experts, veterinarians, or other outside parties who could identify potential cracks in your collective armor. 

“No amount of employee training or prevention will preclude a hurricane or some other natural disaster from disrupting company operations,” Levick says. “But contingency planning and risk assessment are indispensable in helping companies combat and recover from storms of all shapes and sizes.”