Crisis will sneak up on you when you least expect it – as evidenced by how off-guard the current pandemic caught the world.

The time to start managing a crisis is before it happens. Until now, however, many companies have paid only lip service to crisis preparation. Indeed, 79% of organizations surveyed pre-pandemic by Deloitte expressed confidence in their ability to effectively respond to a “health scare” – yet just 22% had tested their plan with a simulation exercise.

Successful crisis management is a continuum of activities to assess, adjust, and reassess risks, the environment, and your plan of response. It is an unbroken cycle of improvement that is constantly tested and tweaked. While there are bound to be some surprises when the real thing hits, organizations with clear plans in place are well-positioned to head off some of the worst impacts of a crisis of any form.

This is not to say you must ferret out every detail of every possible scenario in advance. That would be impossible. The complexities, interdependencies, and uncertainties are simply too great.

Preparedness is about laying the groundwork – the people, processes, and systems – to help you immediately jump into action and deal with what’s at hand.

How can you begin preparing for what’s next? Here are six tips:

  1. Take stock of what’s working and what isn’t with your current crisis-response plan. Were you missing critical information that could have helped you respond better to the coronavirus crisis? What parts of your crisis-management plan worked? What parts were lacking? What data, systems, or people would have helped you make decisions more confidently? Note your deficiencies while they are still fresh so you can shore up your weaknesses before the next one hits. Learn from your mistakes.
  2. Get all risks on your radar. Don’t let your inherent biases blind you to what risks are really out there. Consider everything – even those risks you think are well outside the realm of possibility. You don’t want to be blindsided when something happens that you should have known about.
  3. Assemble your crisis team. Given the importance of efficient coordination, communication, and decision-making in a crisis, who is on the team matters greatly. Board-level and C-suite support is essential for a good outcome, as is the involvement of a cross-functional group, including risk management, legal, IT, and HR. And when a crisis does occur, pull in those on the frontline for invaluable practical insight on what will work and what won’t.
  4. Assign accountability. Every member of the team should know who is accountable for what and how information will flow. In the end, who owns the crisis doesn’t really matter, as long as someone does.
  5. Designate a leader. Strong leadership skills and great situational awareness are critical for getting an organization through a crisis. The best crisis leaders are calm under pressure and have an inclusive style with the ability to seek counsel from others. They know when to step back and let others step up. You never know where great insights will come from.
  6. Have a plan – and test it. The most effective crisis plans are flexible and holistic instead of tied to a few specific scenarios. Whatever your plan is, put it to the test with simulation exercises that include everyone who would be involved in the real thing. There is no substitute for muscle memory when a crisis hits.

Crisis doesn’t respect geographic boundaries, industry sectors, departmental silos, or timelines. Don’t wait for the COVID-19 crisis to be over before you start planning for the next one – which could look very different from this one. Will you be ready?

Start planning now.

For more on recovering from crisis with resiliency, check out our e-book, Life After Lockdown: A Playbook for Crisis Recovery, Resiliency, and Restarting Right, and find all of our crisis preparedness resources here.