If you fail to plan then you are planning to fail...?
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
There is a popular adage often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the father of time management, "Failing to plan is planning to fail,"
For many companies across Asia, as employees begin to return to the office, according to the WHO , new coronavirus cases in some countries begin to dwindle, senior management maybe asking themsevlves this vary question. How prepared are we, and how much more planning do we need to do to be prepared if things get worse?. The answer may not be so clear as yet as most firms are having to juggle how best to keep their workplaces safe whilst continuing go about their business and keep it together. And coming up with innovative strategies to resume work without setting off another wave of infections is now crucial and timely.
The mood in China in particular has been one of caution as officials try to restart the world’s second-largest economy and for many employees their temperatures continue to be taken multiple times during the day, while being required to wear face masks all day and being discouraged from taking public transport. Most companies are allowing only half of their employees, or fewer, into the office each day. Escalators and elevator floors have been divided into marked areas containing images of shoes to keep employees from standing too close to one another .Meanwhile, office seating is arranged in grid like formats so that workers remain separated. At lunchtime when employees take a break, the vigilance continues where eateries have created novel ways to contain contamination. Separated cubicles with glass or plastic sheaths are being set up so that the slurping of soup noodles and dabbling of dim sum in sauces across shared bowls cannot take place.
For employees returning to work in South Korea, "We are hoping that we have passed the peak, taking the numbers into consideration, and cautiously expecting we have passed the peak,"  South Korean Health Minister Park Neunghoo said in an exclusive interview with CNN earlier this month. For Hong Kong, most of the 180,000 public servants also returned to work on March 2nd, 2020.  and are still monitoring the extent of striking a balance between deciding to protect its workforce and resume suspended public services.
Despite escalating efforts by many firms to deal with disruptions from the coronavirus outbreak that started in China. Microsoft, Amazon, CNN and closer to home HSBC, Santa Fe and the Maxim Group have put employees through work-from-home drills, implemented emergency-response plans and ordered increasingly stringent safety measures to protect their workers and their customers. Communication is the cornerstone of any organisation's success at the best of times, yet as companies continue to tackle oncoming winds these days, “It’s even more important in times of crisis”, says Mary Covatta, Founder and Managing Director of leading strategic brand communications consultancy Covatta Communications (www.covattacomms.com).
While more than likely depending on your company structure, the corporate communications department will traditionally handle social and print media and public relations during the crisis, and for many they are in the process of implementing a communications plan. Without an adequate crisis communication plan in place, crises lead to confusion, misunderstandings, assumptions, rumours, and worry. "The work atmosphere can become negative very quickly and employee productivity starts slowing down because everybody is trying to find information related to the crisis", Covatta says, in times of crisis, businesses face 3 main challenges:
1. They don’t have a clear crisis communication strategy in place that allows top management and team leaders to effectively inform their employees and stakeholders.
2. They don’t have any way to make sure that all stakeholders have received and understood the messages shared with them.
3. They stop communciating altogether.
We’ve developed a simple list of 8 Crisis Communication best practices for you to consider to adopt:
1. Be and get prepared
How do you react to a crisis happening at your company? Is your response going to be tactical or strategic? I imagine for many you have been caught unprepared. Right?
You need to be prepared at all times (that’s another subject for discussion in another article).
Simply put, a response to a crisis can be tactical or strategic or both. Depending on the nature of your business and the risks and consequences.
In a nutshell, a tactical response to a crisis is:
· Short-term focused
· Focused on the implementation of a solution
While a strategic response to a crisis is:
· Based on anticipation
· Long-term focus
· Driven by your principles
· Based on your judgments and expertise
No matter what your response to the crisis will be, you’ll need to have a solid communication plan that your team can implement right away if something happens.
2. Create a hierarchy for sharing information on the crisis
The person or team that reports on the crisis doesn't always handle the development of crisis communications plan. So, a part of the plan should be dedicated to forming a hierarchy outlining how information should be shared within the company. We recommend appointing a spokesperson (to liaise with external stakeholders in particular) and speak on your brand's /company’s behalf. After all, it's a lot easier to relate to one person than a group. This person could be your CEO, a company executive, or someone you feel is best suited to represent your company. It's important to choose a good communicator as their actions will influence how your key stakeholders will react to the situation.
3. Build a strong Communications Plan
Preparing your team for a crisis doesn’t mean having an idea of the steps they’re going to follow. Instead, it means having a clear and robust communication plan they can deploy immediately. The key is to have a well-prepared communication plan that can be implemented sooner rather than later.
4. Manage all your communication materials in one place
Poor communications leads to confusion in the workplace, especially when a crisis occurs.
"What happened?" "Who was in charge?" "How is the crisis going to affect our jobs?" "What shall we say to our colleagues who ask us questions about the event?" "What do we do if journalists reach out to some of us?" All these questions will be asked by your employees.
You need to manage your time and resources wisely so neither your team nor your employees feel overwhelmed with unclear messages going in different directions. The key in crisis communications is to centralise your messages and your communication materials into one place. That way, you avoid duplicating content that may lead to information overload and frustration in the workplace and more confusion than needed. Centralising all the communication materials you’re going to use in crisis management into one place is also a great way to make sure that the right information reaches the right employees at the right time.
5. The ‘write’ Messaging
It’s perhaps easiest to approach key message creation by stepping back from an issue and thinking about the story or facts you want to communicate to your audience. You’ll probably have several audiences, each of which will better understand the issue if key messages are tailored specifically for their interests and motivations. Each stakeholder must receive a specific set of messages that pertains to them in relation to the crisis. Typically, you’ll want to develop three or four overall key messages for an issue, along with a similar set of messages for each individual audience. These messages are then supported by facts and statistics called “proof points.”
6. Dont' wait too long- Engage with all stakeholders as soon as you can.
As mentioned earlier, transparency is the key during a crisis. Don’t wait for your employees to make assumptions about crisis. Again, this is how rumours get started in the workplace, and they may harm your business before you know it. Building a transparent and open communications during a crisis is one of the best ways to get employees on your side and reinforce their trust. The same can be said for customers and clients. Connect with them and remain engaged. How will your products or service affect their business? How will your firm continue to work together during a crisis? These are just some of the questions that need to be discussed, addressed and included in your plan.
7. Give your Employees a role in the crisis communciations roll out plan
Even though employees play an essential role in crisis management, they tend to be overlooked in most businesses. Not only well-prepared employees can help you overcome a crisis, but they also play a critical role in the recovery process.
And here’s how:
· Employees can help you run your business smoothly during the crisis by maintaining continuous productivity
· By sharing the right information with their colleagues, they can prevent rumours from spreading in the company
· Don’t forget that stress is contagious! Your employees’ attitude may either improve the situation or make it worse. By keeping calm and informed during the crisis, they can prevent the spread of confusion and panic in the workplace.
· Whether your employees work in sales or customer support management, they are the ones having ongoing discussions with leads and clients. Depending on how well-prepared they are, they can either reassure clients and prospects or spread panic outside the organisation.
· By sharing the right information with their personal networks, well-informed employees can play a significant role in protecting the company’s image and market capitalisation.
8. Create Customer /Client Feedback collection and analysis mechanism
Even though your team is managing the various stakeholders and disseminating the relevant information, unless you have a feedback mechanism in place that gathers enough feedback from your customers, it could affect your business and your business’s bottom line.
Having a form, email, link or bot or a live representative, all provide insights into how your customers /clients are feeling about your business, products or services. This mechanism will allow you to spot major roadblocks before they escalate into something more negative and, it gives customers /clients an opportunity to share negative criticism that you can use to improve other customers' experiences.
As a side point…gathering feedback is an effective practice to prevent a crisis too. When faced with an unhappy or escalated customer/client, our success team recognises this as a chance to collect customer /client feedback. They begin interactions by asking customers to review their experience and discuss any elements that were unsatisfactory. This helps you and your team create actionable steps that can be used to address your customer and or clients’ needs.
Sources;  World Health Organisation-March 9th, 2020.  Financial Times, The Beijinger, SCMP-Hong Kong,  “South Korean Health Minister Park Neunghoo” interview with CNN, March 10th, 2020.