The makings of a life include the happy acts of coincidence — running into a friend in a foreign country or discovering a new hole-in-the-wall taco place. Reminiscent of “Sliding Doors”, it may be the little things that usher us to entirely different situations. While some happenstances are pleasant, others remain less-than-ideal. For organizational culture and business, these small moments may endanger its own existence. If not handled prudently, an unexpected event may create long-term damage. The current health pandemic has greatly affected numerous industries and businesses. The travel industry alone is expected to lose $820 billion.

what can you do for your organizational culture and business in a time of crisis?

Let’s look a history of how companies handled severe challenges.

In 1982, 7 people died after consuming cyanide-laced, Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules. It remains one of the most well-known cases of an unsettling occurrence. Tylenol sprung into action, taking a $100 million loss by removing 31 million bottles of Tylenol from store shelves. The response involved local and national law enforcement and a cash reward for information leading to the arrest of the person(s) at fault. Tylenol’s action to rectify the disaster concluded with the packaging we know today: tamper-resistant packaging for customers’ peace of mind.

Fortunately, Tylenol moved quickly in managing the crisis and mending customer trust. While this example is helpful in explaining how and why a business must be resilient in a capricious context, this occurrence happened decades ago.

In today’s era of swift information exchange, business operations are different. There are some definite upsides to fast information flow: for example, Twitter found and delivered American actor Mark Ruffalo’s lost cell phone in a blizzard. But unhappy customer stories, like searskilledmydog.com, also can deal a death blow to companies, and by extension, organizational culture. The World Wide Web gives customers, manufacturers, investors, and the next-door neighbor the opportunity to voice their own opinions. It gives the opportunity to quickly spread updates on health risks. Digitalization allows for food to be delivered to your doorstep and many people the ability to work from home.

Because both good and bad things happen at lightning speed, containing a crisis must be enacted at lightning speed.

 

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In December 2015, Reese’s, owned by Hershey, released its annual tree-shaped peanut butter chocolates; highly-visible complaints poured in from consumers about the chocolate’s irregular look. Customers posted snapshots of the chocolates, protesting about the misleading marketing. In a witty move, Reese’s countered the criticism by declaring “all trees are beautiful” and setting up an anti- “tree shaming” campaign. At first glance, it may seem like regular fun at the Internet water cooler.

But navigating a crisis, especially one like the coronavirus virus, goes far beyond PR.

Crisis management (also called business continuity) is the constant painstaking analysis, monitoring, and anticipation of any internal or external development that could impact the functions of an organization. It is just as much about preparing an organization for any event as it is about helping a company execute an effective response. The core of crisis management is deliberating and defining the long-term goals of an organization and its place within a community, an industry, and as an agent of change.

Within the varied situations a company faces, there is no “one size fits all” solution for their organizational culture. However, leaders of a business can begin managing a crisis now by crafting an anticipatory mindset and using this 5 principles:

1. Manage for the long-term

When organizations prioritise the “big picture” and focus on long-term strategy, the current dilemma possesses the advantage of disseminating itself; companies will begin enacting judgements that raise them out of the present mire. For example, the National Football League (N.F.L) has had a major problem on their hands for decades: the difficulty of addressing the players that come under accusation of domestic abuse. One may suggest the League’s actions (thus far) have been passive. The N.F.L has the opportunity to work with the players’ association to equally represent and govern players. Just as there are hard-and-fast guidelines for recreational drug usage, a policy on the actions of personal conduct can be also put in place. The N.F.L struggles each time when news of domestic abuse by one of its players breaks: the blame and blunder of top-level management, the outrage of a devoted fanbase (side note: approximately 45 percent of fans are female), and the passive recognition of assault allegations. Executing a holistic union-and-league policy would help resolve the dilemma of an appropriate response.

With coronavirus, managing for the long term may mean a new revamp of an organizational policy, or amends to the organizational culture or processes. As a business leader, layoffs may be inevitable. This could greatly affect operations or team morale. Managing long-term is communicating what the plans are in the short and mid-term. Employees are uncertain. Communicate with them about what your next actions will be to remain solvent, even if it does include layoffs. Create a plan about how you’ll apply for programs like the US’ “Small Business Workforce Stabilization Fund,” which gives financial assistance to small businesses which were solvent before the crisis. Financial programs like this will provide immediate cash, helping you to keep employees on payroll---or show other employees they’ll be back on payroll once business picks up again.

2. Establish a unified response

For companies, a coherent reaction stems from keeping messages clear and consistent. Developing and maintaining stated positions allows companies to move forward in addressing the emergency at hand.

Organizations should designate a spokesperson who can effectively mitigate sensitive issues with public officials, media, unions, and other parties. It may be the CEO or it may be a third party. What’s important is to create a centralized and common message. Then, taking this message and filtering it to all levels of management and company partners emphasises the unity of company identity and its core values. This reinstates the mission of organizational culture. If your company’s values include empathy or integrity, be sure to integrate these key words or other key phrases into the central message. By having a central message that all employees understand shows mature acknowledgment and commitment in solving the internal or external turbulence the company faces. If you need inspiration, check out what the CEO of Marriott Hotels said as he leads the company through the current crisis.

3. Be open about company policies and resources

An appropriate response begins with a company communicating not only how they’re going to handle the current crisis, but what policies and resources the company offers to employees.

Share with employees about the company’s own policies, whether it’s about paid time off, taking personal leave, or professional development opportunities. Different employees may have different concerns during a crisis. Those with children will be wondering how they’ll juggle child care and work. Maybe offer parents more flexible hours while working from home. Go over relocation or travel assistance policies for those who regularly travel on behalf of the company. Review important policies like health insurance. Have your human resources team create a list of other resources that will be useful: the websites that give regular updates state and federal procedures, store openings, nearby health clinics, food donation banks, and other resources that will be helpful to them.

The organizations that remain more candid about their policies will prepare their organizational culture to have better communication channels. When information to the “front lines” of an impending situation is essential, these channels become life-lines.

4. Move fast and be clear

When a crisis does occur, reach out expediently to the appropriate stakeholders, from customers to employees. Talk to management and employees about the developing situation. Move to social media, where updates and public response can be engaged and managed. Release a public statement as soon, even if details are little known. From then on, collect information and facts efficiently. Set up a central hub for communication to answer all inquiries; there should be no disparity in response.

In the case of force majeure or industrial accidents, like Fukushima Daiichi or Hurricane Katrina, local communities must be mobilised.

Some companies, depending on their industry, should work with local government and grassroots efforts to ensure safety and create true contingency plans before mishaps occur. If companies want to minimise the hit of a future crisis, initiating a forthright relationship with stakeholders is an easy and impactful deterrence.

5. Hire the professionals

Hand-in-hand with disclosing activities to stakeholders, companies ought to work with crisis management experts. When an event occurs, the faster it is handled, the impact of its negative fallout decreases. As part of an organization’s structure, these experts know the company thoroughly and intimately, substantially cutting the amount of preparation and research when a crunch occurs.

The Internet carries a special power to magnify any sort of event — whether the act is enormously decisive, true or false, or inconsequential. What may begin as a communications or manufacturing issue may turn into a political issue overnight. What may have been a software bug on Volkswagen’s emission tests, has morphed into civil suits. Hiring a team, either on retainer or singular engagement, improves coordination between all stakeholders. Possessing the resources to have rapid-action, tailored support within 24 hours of an event, remains an organization’s strongest defences in handling a business disruption.

This crisis may act as a perfecting crucible, not a painful demise to those companies willing to take the time to create a clear message, mobilize their employees, and act decisively. This is a worldwide phenomenon, which means everyone’s feeling uncertain. Be a leader in a time of uncertainty by prepping and acting immediately. Oprah once said “Luck is preparation meeting opportunity”. For organizations, a crisis may be bad luck, but with preparation, the prudent companies turn it into an opportunity to increase employee and customer loyalty.

Companies like BMW and Lufthansa, leverage Retorio's AI to support their own talent management teams. Our video-based AI was featured in TechCrunch and Süddeutsche Zeitung .

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Elizabeth T.

Written by Elizabeth T.

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