By definition, a crisis is caused by a major, temporary change. Don’t fall into the trap of managing the temporary crisis itself, instead of managing through the crisis. Of course, some people need to focus on figuring out how to stop the Coronavirus. And we need to give them all the support we can. At the same time, those of us stewarding brands need to stay out of their way while preparing the way for our brands to emerge from the crisis even stronger than before.
The suggested framework is to think in terms of physical safety, reputation and finances – in that order. The fundamental approach is to prepare in advance, react to events and bridge the gaps while keeping in mind that leading through a crisis is about inspiring and enabling others to get things vaguely right quickly, and then adapt along the way – with clarity around direction, leadership and roles.
The essence of the approach, per my earlier article on Learnings from Boeing’s 737 Max, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble on Crisis Management, is:
1. PREPARE IN ADVANCE: The better you have anticipated possible scenarios, the more prepared you are, the more confidence you will have when crises strike.
- Establish crisis management protocols, explicitly including early communication protocols.
- Identify and train crisis management teams (with clear leadership and roles.)
- Preposition human, financial, and operational resources.
2. REACT TO EVENTS: The reason you prepare is so that all can react quickly and flexibility to the situation they face. Don’t over-think this. Let people do what they prepared to do.
- Figure out if the event or issue is temporary or enduring, with a minor or major impact. Treat it as a crisis if it’s temporary with a major impact.
- Then turn your crisis management team loose to respond to the events. This is where all the hard work of preparation pays off.
3. BRIDGE THE GAPS. In a crisis, there is inevitably a gap between the desired and current state of affairs. Rectify that by bridging those gaps in the:
- Situation – implementing a response to the current crisis, iterating through i) situational questions, ii) choosing situational objectives and intent across physical safety, reputational, and financial issues – in that order, iii) bridging gaps between the current reality and those objectives before going back to assess the new situation.
- Response – improving capabilities to respond to future crises.
- Prevention – reducing the risk of future crises happening in the first place.
When it comes to the Coronavirus, start by deciding if this is your crisis. If you’re the government of China, the Coronavirus is definitely your crisis now. If you’re running a restaurant in the middle of Iowa, it’s not your crisis yet. Don’t weigh in on others’ crises. But do be aware of what’s going on, how it’s impacting your customers, collaborators and community and be ready to iterate into crisis-management mode if it hits you.
In any case, get prepared, anticipate the scenarios, establish the protocols and your crisis management team. In particular, put protocols in place now to protect your team and your customers physically. With the virus’ incubation periods, this is going to be about keeping your people out of harm’s way, minimizing the risks of contacting virus carriers.
At the same time, don’t wait until someone in your team or your customers get sick. You have to react to the virus’ impact on those influencing your customers, its impact on your collaborators or supply chain and on the communities in which you live and work.
If you buy into this framework and priorities, the key choices are going to be reputational.
Putting people’s safety first is not a choice. Do what you have to do to protect your team, customers and community.
Know you’re going to suffer financially when the virus hits you. This is why you put money aside for a rainy day.
Ultimately, what you’re going to be left with after the crisis is your personal and brand reputation. Re-look at your brand values. Make sure you are protecting your core strategic planks. Treat all in a way that enhances your reputation with them. Over time, they’ll remember how you treated them and how you made them feel at the worst moments.