5 Strategies to Plan Ahead of a Business Crisis

5 Strategies to Plan Ahead of a Business Crisis

Today, more than two years after the global onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems many businesses are finally starting to see the light (or at least more light) at the end of the tunnel. Many of them have faced a business crisis and somehow managed to survive.

At the same time, health officials are already trying to get ahead of the next pandemic whenever it may occur because one thing’s certain: It will occur.

As Matthew Bayliss, a Liverpool University professor and the director of the city’s new Pandemic Institute, told the Financial Times, being prepared means “expecting and rigorously planning for the expected.”

5 Strategies For Creating A Business Crisis Plan

As the founder of an online form business, I was fortunate to have a business that was readily adaptable to many of the pandemic-related work changes—like surges in telecommuting and online retail. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the impact of the pandemic, and I wasn’t alone.

A 2020 study found that only 12% of businesses reported feeling highly prepared for the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

To prepare yourself and your business, here are five expert-backed strategies for creating a business crisis plan and building resilience for whatever the future holds.

1. Rethink Your Mindset

It’s hard not to see the Covid-19 pandemic as an aberration—an interruption of business as usual. While a certain degree of shock and disappointment are inevitable, viewing a crisis as an anomaly can also hurt your ability to adapt and move forward.

Why?

Because you run the risk of getting caught up in the what-ifs – what if this had never happened? What if we had done something differently?– rather than focusing on “what now?”

Harvard Business Review recommends a shift in mindset to help your company become more resilient:

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“View crises as inevitable disruptions to be prepared for, managed, and leveraged for competitive opportunity, rather than infrequent one-off events to be defended against ad hoc. Such a shift will help the organization to make proactive and future-oriented decisions during a crisis that allow it to thrive in and shape the post-crisis landscape.”

Like accounting or annual employee retreats or any other routine business operation, crisis planning can become part of your regularly scheduled programming.

2. Create a Communication Strategy (or Various Strategies) Ahead of Time

When a crisis inevitably occurs, as a leader, your first priority is assuring your employees and customers that your business has a handle on things.

One important rule of thumb: create a communication strategy (or multiple strategies) ahead of time. Take it from agriculture experts who are well-versed in regularly planning for crises—like natural disasters that wipe out entire crops.

Jim Schweigert, president of Gro Alliance, told Seed World:

“You don’t start crisis communication when you have a crisis. It really should be part of your business planning strategy from day one.”

At Gro Alliance, Schweigert and his team carry out exercises called scenario planning. During the annual management team meeting:

“he and his team discuss what would happen if the industry went in a certain direction—that way, they can map out responses to each scenario, including the task leader in charge of employees, clients, and suppliers.”

Choose a recurring event where your management team can take the time to walk through various crisis scenarios and outline a communication plan for each.

3. Consider Appointing a Chief Security Officer

Harvard Business Review contributor Juliette Kayyem spent years training and advising companies on disaster management. She says that the positioning of the principal security role within an organization is a critical part of being prepared for a crisis.

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While many companies, and startups, in particular, have more recently created external security teams (with names like “trust advisory boards”), Kayyem recommends appointing a security leader as a permanent and prominent part of your organization.

After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Kayyem writes, many companies hired chief security officers, and thereafter, other C-roles proliferated, such as chief information security officers, and more recently, chief medical or health officers.

“Though all of those C-roles are focused on different threats, a leader’s response is going to be essentially the same whether it’s an active shooter, earthquake, cyber breach, or virus: Execute a plan, minimize the impact, and lead the company.”

A single role is needed to oversee all of these efforts.

Creating a chief security officer role, if it doesn’t exist already, is an effective way to reassure your customers. Take GitHub: Last year, when they hired their first chief security officer, Mike Hanley, they published a blog post about it to communicate to the world this important security step.

Hanley wrote, “I’m excited to work with the team and the community to assure that GitHub continues to lead as the most trustworthy home for developers, ecosystems, and teams to come together and create.”

All of the important stakeholders—users, employees, partners, etc.—will feel more confident knowing that your company is being actively protected even before a crisis strikes.

4. Push Yourself to Think Long-Term

A crisis occurs—for example, a virus that brings the entire world, including your business, to a standstill. What now?

Your first intuition may be to go into triage mode and focus all of your efforts on stopping the bleeding. But as counterintuitive and challenging as it may seem, focusing on long-term outcomes rather than short-term solutions is key to surviving a crisis.

At Jotform, we continued to develop new features and apps that we thought would better serve our existing and future users over the long term. For example, we released our Store Builder app because we realized that one out of every three apps created through Jotform already included payment forms.

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Or take Henrik Ekelund, Founder, and CEO of BTS Group in Sweden. In 2020, Ekelund knew his company, a global consultancy for in-person workshops, would take a serious hit. His strategy for getting his business through the crisis may have raised some eyebrows.

As he told the World Economic Forum:

“We committed to keeping 100% of our 1,200 people employed with no salary cuts, we pivoted our business to digital, switched sales strategy, and built a big reserve of cash by postponing dividends, bonuses, and taking loans.”

You’re probably wondering: what was the result?

Ekelund said that even though they initially lost 70% of their revenue, 2021 became a new record year, with a 20% increase in revenue and profit compared to 2019.

Long-term thinking during a crisis can make your company not just more resilient but more profitable than ever.

5. Improve Society’s Resilience

During the pandemic, a virus wasn’t the only large-scale force impacting businesses. Another was the rise of social justice movements.

As I’ve written before, we’re living in a time of upheaval. Many people are determined to make the world a better place. As business owners, we should anticipate this kind of activism. We can also do what we can to support it.

Harvard Business Review authors explain:

“Business [needs] to play a role in larger issues beyond traditional corporate boundaries. Leaders should look to reduce the volatility and fragility of the systems and societies on which they depend, reinforcing the social fabric through efforts like reducing polarization, optimizing for both societal and business value, and reimagining business models for sustainability.”

You might be wondering: what can my company do to help?

Tap into your business’s strengths and start there.

Becoming more sustainable, championing diversity, and aiding causes that reduce inequality will improve societal resilience. And helping to make society more resilient will ultimately help our businesses thrive, too.

Final Thoughts

As entrepreneurs, we should already be expecting and rigorously planning for the next company crisis, whether it’s brought on by a virus, a war, or a natural disaster.

As history shows, crises inevitably happen, and businesses that don’t plan for them become casualties to them.

Harvard Business Review recently noted, “As we saw with Covid-19, more resilient businesses had better outcomes, and some even emerged as new winners.”

Resilience isn’t just a survival mechanism—it can also be a secret weapon.

Featured photo credit: Pema Lama via unsplash.com

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