How do you manage a business during a crisis?

Customisable business insurance
26 October 2020
4 minute read

Even the best-managed companies can get into trouble. External risks like massive market shifts, a recession, or changes in customer behaviour can all send your company haywire. Internal stressors – like a restructure or buy-out - can pile the pressure on, too.

Focused businessman speak with coworker

So how do you manage your business through a storm? Whether it’s a brief disruption or a long-term transformation, here are seven simple tips to help you find your way through.

1. Assess the risk

It’s not always clear what the impact of a crisis will be on your business. Without a detailed understanding of what you’re facing, you may be more likely to panic or become overwhelmed. To identify and analyse the risks you face, start by reviewing strategy risks, external risks and preventable risks, as recommended by risk management experts Robert Kaplan and Anette Mikes.

2. Find focus

“I spent many years doing transformational change for organisations in times of crisis and what I learnt is that you need to find a way of getting real focus” says Kim Adele. “Find clarity on exactly what you need. I’m not just talking about today, but also what you need for the future.”

Perhaps that means getting a laser focus on your profit and loss, so you know exactly what financial gaps need filling, or it could mean identifying the shift in customer behaviour that’s affecting your business, down to the smallest detail.

Knowledge isn’t action, so data alone won’t solve your problem. But by zeroing in on the exact nature of the problem, you’ll be better equipped to deal with it.

3. Get on top of your numbers

“It is imperative to truly know your figures as a business” says Claire Bartlett of Arden Bookkeping. “You need real, up to date information on your performance. This helps you budget for the future, make better informed decisions and understand what your business needs to achieve, to survive the crisis. It can help you avoid redundancies by highlighting other areas of costs to be cut and can help you feel in control of your future as a business.”

4. Assemble a Crisis Management Team

When trouble hits, you need your best people on the job. Start by thinking about the key areas affected by the crisis, and the different steps you’ll need to take. That might mean bringing in people from Finance or Accounts so you can understand your financial exposure, someone from Marketing, PR or Communications so you can plan for how to communicate internally and externally, or Legal or Compliance to ensure your proposed solutions are watertight.

Consider the personalities you’d like on your team, not just the professional areas. Work with somebody who’s cool and calm under challenge, always knows how to motivate the group, or cuts through vague discussions with practical ideas? Get them on board. Check out Noggin’s free crisis management guide for guidance on how to assemble your team.

If your business is small, or you’re a one-person operation, it’s still worth thinking about the different roles and expertise you need in the room. Try listing out the roles that you want to contribute to your decisions – then try reaching out to trusted friends, ex-colleagues or connections, to see if they can share their expertise.

5. Develop a Crisis Management Plan

A strong crisis management plan is more than just a few action steps. It should reflect your business’ mission, vision and values. How can you bring out the best of your business? Can you foreground vital values like empathy, clarity or service? Whether it’s through genuine, transparent discussions about the issues, or warm, authentic support for your employees, identify a few areas where your business can live out its core principles. Our values matter more, not less, when we’re under pressure.

Next, get practical. What are the essential steps you need to cover so that your business can stay viable, or at least protect itself against the most significant losses? Check out Smartsheet’s guide to creating a crisis management plan, Hubspot’s resources on how to create a crisis management plan, or Risk Management magazine’s Five Ps of Creating a Crisis Management Plan.

6. Communicate clearly

You don’t need to broadcast to the whole world, but you need to tell the affected people. Identify what is an appropriate level of detail to share, and which people need to receive it. if you’re tempted to keep everything under wraps, be aware that keeping secrets or trying to crush gossip can have the opposite effect.

If you need to communicate externally, check out Hubspot’s Crisis Communication and Management Templates for a simple starting point.

7. Show compassion for the worst affected

Nobody wants to have to make their team redundant. But if you find yourself in this situation, it pays to remember that people are your most precious resource. If you have to let them go, tread carefully. Your remaining employees will have more respect for you if you handle things transparently, fairly and compassionately.

“Having had to run some major redundancy programmes in my time, the key for me is to think about the people that are impacted” says Kim Adele. “Ensure you are leading in a way that leaves them as undamaged as possible.”

Protecting your team from harm will mean different things to different people. It might mean doing your best to keep them on furlough, ensuring they are offered the fullest range of alternatives, or taking time to listen deeply and offer them the space they need to air any negative emotions.

“You need to remind people they’re not being made redundant because they’re not great at their job” says Kim Adele, “Or because they’re not good people. Remind them they are fantastic workers and that you hope in the future you will be able to recruit again. Make sure they know you would want those people to come back to you.”

And if all else fails, don’t underestimate the value of tea breaks and informal catch-ups. Research suggests that maintaining the rituals and routines of your pre-crisis business can help employees to feel reassured, even when business is far from usual.

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