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Navigating uncertainty: three principles for a strong crisis management response throughout all recovery phases

As COVID-19 grew into a pandemic, it tested the short-term decision-making capacity of most organisations. They needed to respond rapidly, prioritise their resources and keep their people productive and safe.

While protecting your staff and customers is rightly the immediate priority, a strong crisis management response doesn’t stop there. In the face of COVID-19, teams need to adapt to manage a response through three phases:

  1. Getting ahead of the curve: quick decision-making and short-term activity to minimise the immediate impacts of disruption. Generally focused on ways of working and the welfare and safety of staff and customers.
  2. Embracing the jolt: a mix of tactical and strategic decisions that aim to use the disruption to create advantage by turning forced changes into sustainable value.
  3. Exploiting the new reality: strategic decisions that leverage the new capabilities and opportunities inherent in the altered world that will emerge after the crisis.

To strengthen and inform your crisis decision-making across all three phases, we believe there are three key areas to focus on.

Keep your corporate values close

It’s more important than ever to reflect your corporate values in every decision. Strong values provide an anchor for senior leadership in all their activity, aiding decision-making during the crisis while making a long-term impact on your organisation’s brand, both internally and externally.

For example, if ‘customers first’ is a core value, do not neglect them as decisions are made. Focus on a communications strategy which targets all customers, through regular channels, with  the latest information to manage their expectations throughout the crisis. In this age of social media, you may need to provide a customer services platform for customers or push out regular updates to avoid rumours dictating your strategy.

If one of your values is about ‘integrity’, make sure your strategies build trust with your stakeholders. Senior executives should demonstrate great leadership and be open with staff and external groups on performance, challenges and critical decisions that could impact them. During crisis management meetings, challenge each other to question whether the decisions relate back to integrity and consider how they will be interpreted by external groups, including the media, which you will need to be on side once the crisis passes. It’s key to find ways to maintain the trust and loyalty these groups have for your brand.

Use data to help drive strategic decisions

It’s necessary to focus on immediate priorities during times of crisis. But knowing when to raise this focus and address the medium (or longer) term obligations is key. For example, at some point you’ll have to look again at regulatory milestones, services that need prioritising, or contractual obligations you need to adhere to.

Data from internal and external facing teams, such as customer demand, reputation damage, financial forecasts and supply chain challenges, should inform decision-making. Inviting some of these teams or individuals into crisis meetings will provide useful insight to identify challenges and opportunities for the weeks and months ahead. This data should also identify future scenarios within the same crisis that will need attention and will also help assess any shifts in business performance based on the decisions you have made so far.

Bring in the views of others  

In the immediate term, senior leaders will need to get closer to the detail of their business than they might in typical circumstances. But it’s also important to bring in the views of others quickly, from across the business. Insights from department leads, technical leads and customer facing employees can support the crisis management team as they look at the strategic decisions, such as diversifying offers, redirecting resources and prioritising internal programmes.

These additional contributors should also have the authority to make or lend their sponsorship to strategic decisions that protect the business. These individuals could work as part of the crisis management team or separately, but consistent and reliable updates will be vital. Two-way communication, with situation updates that can be easily translated into action, will help maintain trust and provide the direction needed for all levels of the response.

As your organisation moves through the different phases of crisis response, centring on your corporate values, basing decisions on data and empowering a broader team to deliver will help your organisation thrive when we get past the pandemic.


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