Use scenario planning and risk assessments during COVID-19 to help navigate

No business is the same, but we are all facing the same challenge, COVID-19 and its affecting our businesses in different way.

I often talk about scenario planning and risk assessments when discussing crisis planning and strategy and this situation presents us/you with the very reason I talk about it in a business context.

You can’t manage a pandemic or beat it away before it becomes a crisis, but you can consider the different scenarios and risks you may be presented with. This is also important for any debriefs, considering what happened and when, who it involved and what action was taken.

At the moment, businesses need guidance on how to manoeuvre this current situation and looking at scenario planning and risk assessments will help kick this off.

Scenario planning and risk assessments

#1 Crisis management takes place before a crisis hits

Before a crisis takes place, there can often be triggers or signs of issues which can lead to a crisis. Identifying these in advance is key to avoiding a crisis or minimising the impact.

In addition, a solid crisis management and communications plan will help you effectively handle the crisis and move towards protecting and repairing reputation.


#2 Know your risks

Identifying the reputational threats to your business means conducting risk assessments – regularly and in detail. In the case of coronavirus, look at all your stakeholders and think of how this will affect them. For example, staff, suppliers, customers and the media.

What about the physical too? Your community and where your business is based?

How does your company operate? Look at its processes and look at the impact of perhaps ceasing manufacturing, no new stock, stock going out of date. And of course, consider who your customer will get your product or how they can continue to use your services.

If you’ve got the answers to these questions and you’ve found alternative processes or routes, can help you continue to operate and will help a smoother and more efficient adaption to new ways.

This is a presentation I delivered at a law conference. It’s much more detailed and will help you plan, step by step.


#3 Develop a scenario plan

Your crisis management scenario plan can be as simple or as complicated as you like but the more you think and plan just now, the more prepared you’ll be.

Using the risks you’ve identified you should set out the scenarios and how you’d respond to each from a practical perspective – this isn’t solely a comms job, this is the entire management and leadership team’s responsibility.

Think of the scenarios as “if this, then what?” “if this, what are the alternatives?”


#4 Write your crisis management plan and how you will communicate effectively

Consider the following as preparation:

  • Identify influencers and stakeholders
  • Conduct an audit of all communications (or get someone like me to do it for you. An independent auditcould be more constructive)
  • What are the lines of communication?
  • Who is essential for approvals/liaison? Remember, time is everything. A slick process of approvals is essential.
  • Who will be in the crisis team? It should consist of key leaders and PR professional(s). Consider, duty manager, customer service manager and operations manager. If you need advice on how to form a crisis comms team, get in touchand we can this further. If you don’t have a comms person or team, then you’ll need expert advice
  • Is the spokesperson media trained? If you ever have to put someone in front of a camera during a time of crisis, they absolutely have to be media trained and be representative of the brand. See my media training blog here.
  • Establish notification and monitoring procedures/systems. If you know the risks and have developed scenarios, are there any early warning procedures you can put in place via the likes of social media monitoring, specific systems integrated in your building etc?
  • What are your resources like? Think about the current situation and the requirement for staff working from home having laptops, Wi-Fi and access to servers and organisation-specific tools.
  • From the above, is the infrastructure there for quick adaption to home working, reporting etc
  • Develop holding statements – ready to be adapted. You know your scenarios and who is involved and what the responses might look like. Now plan what media statements you’d release in the event of a crisis and if they’d be proactive, reactive, adapted per audience etc.
  • Channels to consider:
    • Social media
    • Role of media – print, broadcast, online
    • Citizen journalists – everyone is a reporter nowadays
    • Community reaction
    • Face-to-face
    • Internal audience
    • Physical messaging in situ

In this current crisis, there has also been an additional need for an advertising budget, which has developed broadcast adverts with clear messages to the general public.


#5 Test the plan and rehearse (this will be useful when learnings are applied)

Once you’ve got your plan together, which will take every business, geographical location, assets, staff etc into consideration, you need to test your plan, rehearsing the scenarios and ensuring it’s as watertight as it can be. If you look at air stewards, they go through hefty safety tests and rehearsals to ensure they know exactly what to do, say and how to act in times of crisis.

This all sounds rather scary, but let’s look at the flip side. If you don’t do any crisis planning and you don’t consider all the different methods of communication, you could leave yourself and your business extremely vulnerable to many different types of crisis and disasters.

Don’t risk your company reputation, jobs for staff and letting down customers. Plan now and you’ll be thankful later.