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Does the Success of Crisis Management Depend on Preparation or Leadership

By Quentin SaLay, Vice President Human Resources, Comcast

Quentin SaLay, Vice President Human Resources, Comcast

The great novelist Stephen King says, “there's no harm in hoping for the best as long as you're prepared for the worst.”Conventional wisdom has it that how you show up in a crisis is a good indicator of who you are as a leader. While I hold this as true, is being prepared or showing up in a crisis a dichotomy?

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the preparedness of organizations to successfully manage  and , navigate  the organization through this crisis with a solid leadership is pivotal. This is not rehearsal but  the live event, playing out in real-time, while  your employees, stakeholders, and customers stand  watching.

Over time we have learned to prepare for the unknown by studying models on how to manage the unforeseen and unpredictable.  These models and how leaders have responded successfully are great maps, but now it’s your turn. Although organizations are now better prepared to respond to a myriad of unexpected events such as natural disasters, economic downturns, and network disruptions, no plan can account for the unknown, catastrophies  such as COVID-19.

"Amidst COVID-19 pandemic, the preparedness of organizations to successfully manage and navigate the organization through this crisis with a solid leadership is pivotal"

It is fair to say that no organization or leader could have been 100% prepared for COVID-19. Preparation is the  key to crisis management. It’s  not a fool’s errand, but instead  forward-thinking, strategic, obligatory, and  smart to safeguard the company and its greatest asset- People!

1. Prepared or not all the employees, customers, and  stakeholders are looking up to business leaders for guidance and direction in the present state of a crisis. These five  tips can help you step up to the challenge as a leader: Si vis Pacem, para Bellum –

“If you want peace, prepare for war,” this original Latin expression was first quoted in the book "Epitoma Rei Militar is by Roman general Vegetius. We know it from the John Wick series, John Wick Chapter 3. The point is having a crisis plan before a crisis hits.

2. Do Not Add to the Chaos:

Get the right people in the room. Identify who the most influencial  individuals are to lead during a crisis and enlist them in the planning and ongoing crisis management efforts. They  may not be your trusted staff you rely upon during normal operations. Reach across the enterprise and get the right people in strategic positions from each respective area of the business and start by identifying the immediate problem areas and collaborate solutions. This selective group should include staffs from finance, it, communications, cyber security, physical security, operations, legal, procurement, supply chain management, and HR.

3. Develop a Communication Cadence

There  might be  multiple communication audiences and so you  will need to manage employees, shareholders, customers, vendors, the press, government agencies, et al. Assign this work to the best qualified your seasoned “Communications Team” not willing volunteers. Provide strict guidance on corporate internal and external communications and do not permit leaders to freewheel, craft, and communicate their  messages to stakeholders. All messaging must be controlled, unified and well-coordinated. Any communication missteps can have dire consequences. Two-Way Communication Channel Ensure there is a two- way communication channel and loop that addresses concerns for all your stakeholders. It is crucial that company messaging on websites should be updated daily as stakeholders take notice of communication channels  for critical updates. 

• Publish stakeholder questions, statuses on open issues, and resolutions.
• Be transparent, open, and honest. There are very few experts on how to handle a pandemic. It’s okay to say, “this is new for all of us, and we are figuring it out together.”

4. Be Visible, and Mandate Your Team Does the Same:

Your employees and stakeholders need to know that  you are fully present and in charge, and   not the wizard behind the curtain pulling all the levers. Being visible means, frequent video, and written communication with status updates on the most important aspects of the business. Equipping your leaders with talking points and FAQs so they  are  prepared to answer questions from all directions. Most importantly, let all communications show EMPATHY! Let your employees and stakeholders know you care.

5. Think Innovatively:

Unprecedented times calls for unprecedented actions. Most organizations’ pre-COVID-19 policies, practices, and organizational bureaucratic sacred cows will prove fruitless   given the immediacy of actions. These items should be pressure tested and removed if they are  opposite actions to meet business and stakeholders needs. Organizations are finding innovative ways to manage their business that would not have been considered pre-COVID-19. Work  from Home (WFH) is such an example, which was viewed as an unnecessary luxury for employees by many managers. But  now  they see the value and necessity of a distributive workforce with very few hits to productivity and collaboration.

So does success in a crisis depend on preparation or leadership? What is critical is how you show-up as a leader and execute in a crisis.

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