I speak from experience. When you’re in a crisis, you’re too busy responding—implementing, acting—to think through and draw up a careful plan. As a CEO, having pre-emptive crisis plans tailored to the possibility of the unimaginable (cyberattack, earthquake, hurricane, or global pandemic) is not an unreasonable precaution, yet many businesses don’t have them.
The best plans outline the protocol, communication responses, mitigation processes, and recovery procedures for a crisis. There are different types of plans—contingency (preparation for business disruptions), disaster recovery (restoration of support systems) and business continuity (survival after a crisis). Many plans include all three. Here is a simple framework.
- Scenario – Explain the potential crisis. Clearly state what has happened and what is happening. Break down the scenario into multiple components.
- Vulnerability Assessment – Outline the risks and impact of the scenario on every aspect of your business and on every affected stakeholder. Consider the ripple effect and the chain reaction of damage.
- Communications Protocol and Spokespeople – Identify the core team of the 3 or 4 people that will manage the crisis in each scenario, and who will be the lead and only person to speak about it. Source any third parties you might need. Be sure you have regularly updated emergency contact info for everyone.
- Plans of Action – Outline potential steps and actions you could take to disintermediate the crisis. What is the recovery plan to resolve the crisis across the different functions of your business? Consider short and long-term plans. Though the situation may be disastrous, what are reasonable outcomes? What could success look like in the worst possible scenario? How will your company move forward?
- Q&A – Develop a list of the potential questions you might get from your stakeholders. Prepare concise answers, as uncomfortable as they might be. Involve legal counsel in the review process and arm your team and spokesperson with that document.
In any crisis, it is vital to speak the truth and never provide false hope or predict outcomes. If the situation is due to an error you or your company made, you must admit it, own it and explain it. Plan to over-communicate during a crisis and provide frequent updates, even if the update is the same. Keep communication simple, and develop visuals whenever you can.
And finally, set aside time with your team and Board to review and update these plans, at least once a year. You can’t anticipate every way a crisis will go, but your plan is a blueprint from which you can operate. If you have properly planned for the worst, there is reasonable hope that your company will come out the other side. You may also lead with more confidence knowing you can navigate it.