Make Room in Your Business Plan for Crisis Management

By Steven D. Peterson, Peter E. Jaret, Barbara Findlay Schenck

Even the best-laid plans sometimes veer off course, usually as the result of unanticipated events or conditions. By gaining a clear understanding of your business environment, you open your eyes to possible threats on your business horizon. And by conducting a SWOT analysis you gain a clearer understanding of why to bolster business strengths and overcome weaknesses to address external factors that could rock your plans.

The most successful businesses take crisis planning one step further by preparing for three crisis-management steps:

  • Pre-crisis planning: Most business crises result from real or rumored incidents in one of the following areas:
    • Lapses in social responsibility that result in harm to employees, customers, the community, or the environment
    • Violations of corporate standards, regulations, or laws that result in a loss of public trust
    • Inappropriate personal behavior by the owner or a high-profile business representative
    • Departure of a business owner or high-profile leader
    • Product failures or dangers
    • Natural or man-made disasters
    • Unanticipated business upheaval, such as loss of a large account or reliable revenue stream

Consider how your business may be vulnerable in each of these areas. Where you see risk, plan preemptive actions, whether by instituting safety precautions, conducting internal audits, announcing succession plans, or other protections. Also, prepare a crisis-communication checklist that includes media, security, and emergency contact information as well as the person who will serve as your crisis manager and the immediate steps that person will take.

  • Crisis management: Should you need to implement a crisis-management plan, waste no time. Figure out what happened, who is affected, how your business can correct or stem the problem, and what you’re doing to protect public safety. Be visible, truthful, brief, and clear, communicating through a single spokesperson and consistent message, preferably delivered through the same media channels through which the bad news is spreading.
  • Post-crisis remedies: Conduct a careful after-the-fact evaluation. Assess whether crisis signals were missed in order to strengthen the way your business monitors and fortifies against threats. Also, assess the quality and effectiveness of your crisis response, aiming to improve the way you protect public safety, control damage, and communicate crisis updates.

If your business is vulnerable to crisis situations or has recently had to deal with a crisis, include in the strategy section of your business plan a summary of preemptive actions you’ve planned, as well as crisis-management strategies you have in place — just in case.