In the past few months, we’ve talked about establishing a crisis management framework and conducting crisis management exercises. A framework documents your organization’s intent to prepare for a crisis and your unique requirements to meet events. Exercises build your crisis management capabilities into muscle memory.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to craft a plan, the part of your effort that tells people exactly what they need to do to withstand emergencies.
Why You Need a Crisis Management Plan
Every company will have crises. It’s not necessarily the crisis that causes detriment—it’s the poor quality of the response. To ensure a strong response, you need a crisis management plan detailing exactly how your business will react to minimize harm and damage, protect your reputation, and restore critical business functions.
You may have read before in our articles that stressed employees might make rash decisions that cause more problems. A solid crisis management plan that employees have studied and practiced keeps them focused on keeping your business running. A plan also removes some of the uncertainty that crises cause. And, as your organization writes and exercises the plan, you surface and start to minimize risks. Furthermore, preparing for crises empowers employees. A Deloitte paper from 2021 showed that companies who had planned for disruption before 2020 felt they had weathered the pandemic well.
Crises Are More Frequent
A glance at the news shows that crises happen everywhere, every day. Severe weather events today seem particularly disruptive and destructive. Active shooter incidents, terrorist attacks, and random public violence are, sadly, daily events. These incidents stand beside other threats to corporate stability, such as employee lawsuits and product recalls. Not to mention global pandemics that impact health and disrupt supply chains. It’s not if a disruption occurs, it’s when.
Your company must prepare.
Prioritize Communications and Tasks
When you start creating your plan, the first thing to remember is that you aren’t breaking new ground. Resources exist to help you. Business continuity standards already outline what to consider in your business continuity or crisis management plan. The basics of a plan boil down to this: you can go a long way to ensuring a fast, successful response by recognizing the essential role of crisis communications and by crafting a detailed plan that states who does what and in what order.
Focus Your Plan
No one is going to sift through a 200-page binder in a disaster. Be detailed, but also be precise and concise with your instructions. You can’t cover every possibility. Therefore, cover the most likely crises.
As one of my professors, Dr. Herman “Dutch” Leonard of the Harvard Kennedy School, says, “There is no comprehensive executable plan for a novel situation.” Your team must rely on building a basic skillset, sometimes called an all-hazard approach, that they can adapt no matter what the situation. Include additional material for specific events as annexes to your document.
Assess Critical Functions and Risks Before You Write
You’ll know your organization’s top threats through risk and the business impact analysis (BIA). But before your team starts those reviews, they should read the organization’s vision and mission statements. Why is everybody there? What are the real purpose and aims of the organization? Understanding overarching goals will help define both the aims of crisis management and the approach.
Use risk assessment and business impact analysis to determine the calamities most likely to befall your organization. Rank these in order of how likely they are to happen. Then, conduct your business impact analysis to understand critical processes better. In addition, look at organizational weaknesses that could cause problems or worsen a crisis. The ASIS Business Continuity Guideline has an excellent introduction to risk assessments and business impact analyses.
Define the Plan Scope
Start your document by defining the plan’s scope, so everyone is clear about what assets the plan covers. Include assumptions about support for crisis mitigation activities to reduce surprises around missing equipment, contractors, or other resources.
Describe How to Activate the Plan
Note how to activate the plan and assemble the team or teams. If you establish an alternate command center, detail its location and capabilities. Activation and relocation criteria depend on your crisis severity levels.
Specify Severity Levels and the Crisis Life Cycle
If you have not already determined this in your policy, decide on crisis severity levels. A warehouse fire that traps three employees is not the same as a water pipe that leaks into your reception area. Therefore, document who can escalate your response and the criteria for escalation. Include a diagram of your crisis escalation path. A diagram helps employees determine at-a-glance who they must contact and consult.
A life cycle describes the different stages of a crisis. Stages are named along the lines of monitor, assess, activate or escalate, manage, and close. Consider hyperlinking each phase in your diagram to your checklists so users can quickly jump to the suitable checklist.
Define Roles and Chain of Command
At a minimum, you must document what roles assume crisis management duties. You should establish clear roles and responsibilities in your crisis management plans. Consider naming responsible individuals and providing their contact information. One business continuity standard, the ASIS International Business Continuity Guide, goes so far as to say that “Personnel used for crisis management should be assigned to perform these roles as part of their normal duties and not be expected to perform them on a voluntary basis.” Delegating responsibilities saves time in a crisis.
Document the expectations for everyone, from the top executives to front-line employees. Bullet points with a few sentences suffice. Also, add third-party roles and responsibilities. Third-parties consist of local fire and paramedic teams and utility companies but may include others, such as contract security and IT support. Your team needs to know which outside resources to engage, and those resources must understand what you expect of them.
Plan for Exercises and After-Action Debriefs
Build into your plan the commitment to train your organization in crisis management approaches and to exercise your plan. Create a schedule. You can always adjust the plan as your team uses its crisis management skills and learns from experience.
Equally important, establish the requirement for debriefs or hot washes after exercises and especially after real crises. After-action discussions are critical to capturing important learnings, so your team isn’t reinventing the wheel. Do it right away after an event, before everyone goes home, has a beer, and forgets everything.
Want to learn more about Crisis Management?
Our Ultimate Guide to Crisis Management contains everything you need to know about crisis management.
You’ll learn what it is, why it’s important for your organization, how to prepare for a crisis, how to respond when a crisis happens, and how to recover and learn from a crisis after it is over. We’ll also provide some perspective on where to learn more about crisis management.
Solid internal and external communications are critical to surviving a crisis. A dedicated crisis communications plan outlines priorities and messages before problems strike. You implement your communications plan when the situation starts, but you’ll develop additional messaging for the specific crisis.
During an event, you’ll want to communicate with customers, employees, stakeholders, third parties, and others. Define who these are in your communications plan. You’ll also want to monitor media coverage to ensure they deliver the correct message to the public. Planning ahead gets your team thinking about media outlets and personalities involved.
A crisis communication plan echoes the format of the crisis management plan:
- Lists your organization’s communications and PR point people.
- Lists employees from functional areas who can contribute specialized insight or speak to the media.
- Creates and details a system to automatically notify internal and external stakeholders. The system can be SMS texts, emails, blog posts, or even a phone tree.
- Details your internal and external messages. Consider your internal and external messaging around the major risks to your organization. Devise responses to the most common questions, especially for customer service representatives. Also, consider how you’ll adjust your message if aspects of the crisis plan don’t work as intended.
- Includes message templates so communications teams and others know what to include in messages. A template saves people from thinking about formatting, so they focus on composing essential information.
- Adds a provision for training so that spokespeople learn how to communicate with the press, shareholders, staff, on social media, and any other relevant media.
Current crisis management standards provide a lot of guidance on communications. The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) 1600 has an annex devoted to social media. ASIS guide contains several paragraphs on crisis communications.
Publish Your Plan with Panners and Scanners in Mind
Diagrams, charts, and other clear visuals help people understand information quickly. People like checklists and work instructions with brief, clear steps. Checklists can also provide an audit trail to prove that employees followed procedures.
In addition, whether you create a Word document, a PDF, a Google Doc, or use another word-processing or publishing platform, consider making the items in your table of contents active, in other words, hyperlinking your table of contents listings to the corresponding topics, checklists, and appendixes. These links will save people from having to scroll through a document while they’re rushed and stressed.
Distribute the plan in a way that stakeholders can easily read and access remotely. Consider optimizing your document for mobile viewing for use on a tablet or smartphone.
Need Help to Create Your Crisis Management Plan?
Our experts have built, implemented, and managed the crisis management processes used by the world’s leading brands. We’d love to talk with you about how you can leverage our experiences and knowledge to improve your organization’s resilience.
Learn about our approach to Crisis Management in our Ultimate Guide to Crisis Management and then contact us today for an initial conversation on how we may be able to help your organization navigate resilience.