If you’re losing the game, change the rules

Business preparedness & planning for crisis

Written by Dr Rebecca Dalli Gonzi

It is hard to predict every changing situation and respond to the unthinkable, but can we be prepared? Do we have what it takes to cope, re-strategise and think outside the box when the unexpected happens?  

Today, change is the only constant with its ever-broadening definition to include terms like unpredictable, threats, rapid and crises.  Organisations may require a very different response mechanism to what currently exists in the literature of organisational change management.  Coping with a future of change requires resilience and preparedness, as ineffective response can severely affect continuity of service. Here are a couple of questions that you should ask yourself before considering that no change event can possibly disrupt your operations.  

What happens when a crisis or threat disrupts my service?

With no prior notice, you must make on-the-spot decisions and implement rapid-fire responses when crisis unexpectedly strikes. Your people will be stressed-out and deadlines time-compressed. Information will be inadequate and the high-consequences of your responses could determine if people will be harmed, careers ruined and your company seriously damaged. Likewise, if you are suddenly incapable to find meaning and direction among constantly shifting priorities, you could face a slower response to external change, resulting in a longer time taken to react or address the impacts.

When we think of crisis, most of us think of large-scale devastationsuch asearthquakes, terrorism, or tsunamis, otherwise known asincomprehensible crisis. But few of us think of smaller scale crises or failures that can happen when a sudden external change hits a weak point in our business to expose greater vulnerabilities in a process, system or organisational structure. Such situations are known as mismanaged crisesor agenda-setting crises.The greatest threat in both of these situations is when business owners or managers live in denial, not willing to address the sudden change thus running the risk of a severe impact on their service outputs, customers or threats to their name or brand.  

Why should I have a response strategy or preparedness plan in place?

Smaller scale crises that tend to impact us on a more day to day basis, are frequently situations that could include communications failure (stalling orders and frustrating customers and service representatives making it impossible to meet critical deadlines); inefficient working conditions that suddenly collapse; failure to deliver supplies because of bad weather, employee caught embezzling money from a client account, a major customer goes out of business or a partner commits a crime; or relationship problems between employees that are leading to conflict and stress. At the heart of this lies the expected capability of a leader together with his or her team to minimise the impact of damage during crucial hours of decision-making and sleepless nights. 

Although there is no simple formula for eliminating such crises, the good news is that preparedness does ensure that you, your team and organisation have a strategy in place during the initial hours of response to the impacts of change. The following six steps in crisis management planning are an example of how preparedness planning can certainly make a big difference in how successfully you cope with crises:

Stage 1: Avoiding the Crisis

Stage 2: Preparing to Manage the Crisis

Stage 3: Recognizing the Crisis

Stage 4: Containing the Crisis

Stage 5: Resolving the Crisis

Stage 6: Learning from the Crisis (Harvard Business, 2013)

Different tools and methods exist in business continuity planning and crisis management so it is up to you to select the right tools to suit your business.

What will this mean for my customers, services or infrastructure?

We live in a time when efficiency of a service requires meeting changing capacities or ever-increasing public demands. Sometimes we recognise those changes only when we hit crisis point, which is sometimes the result of a failure to act, or a failure within the organisation itself falling within a category of 'mismanaged crises'. Our scope as senior managers, business owners or public managers is to ensure that clients or citizens receive their services as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Yet, we must first and foremost recognise the impact of change on a service, process or department that can lead to inefficiency, wasting resources, uncoordinated leadership, weak planning and exposing any vulnerability in the infrastructure.

What can business preparedness and continuity management help me achieve?

Using tools in business preparedness, crisis management and lessons learnt from crisis, one can address or identify areas that are failing and thus build resilience through the integration of preparedness planning into general day-to-day business planning. Business preparedness will help you:

  • Understand the change you are going through
  • Recognise the impact of the change event on your business
  • Manage the change dynamically and understand your limits to initiate action
  • Review post-crisis dynamics

It also means questioning your business (if things are currently running smoothly) to identify areas where customers are being left frustrated with the service. It means addressing whether a service can meet new demands or if it needs updating its methods to suit current trends (IT, internet, communication methods, social networks, etc.). Once a critical area has been identified, business preparedness and continuity management helps owners think through the response they would like to achieve, to make sure it reaches the inner core of their operations and staff. Tools provided are there to ensure a 360 degree view of an impact on your business.

To conclude …

Remember, read the signs and react immediately. Recognise the impact of a change event on your business.  Be aware that preparedness tools exist and they can be used in ways to ensure that you have plans to safeguard yourself when crisis hits, or at least have a strategy in place to think through the steps. Understand the limits of your system, process or department and ensure that you are aware of those limits particularly during periods of uncertainty or rapid change.  Once you know these limits, it will be easier for you to back up those systems through better planning for continuity of service.

About the Author: Profile

Dr Rebecca Dalli Gonzi will be delivering an interactive full day workshop. Details are:

Date: Thursday 26 September 2013

Time: 9am to 4pm

Fee: €160 (including a light lunch)

Venue: Training and Development Centre in Mriehel

For more information click here or contact us on [email protected]




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