As someone who spent more time running businesses than at the front of the classroom, I can tell you that while I love to learn about new models and frameworks that can help me better understand the world around me, I would rather learn models that I could put into practice. When you think about your organization’s management to the COVID-19 pandemic, did you get the impression that policies or practices existed that could help your leadership team navigate this global health care crisis. One way to think about this is on a very small micro scale.
Did your company have policies and practices to manage people issues such as working remotely, freedom to express discomfort, and coming into work, provisions for lapses and daycare support, policies for extended health issues, etc. Alternatively, did your company have macro policies and practices in place? Extended loss of access to your main business locations, periods of extended medical leave, and those types of things. You may not have developed practices that were directly tied to a mass pandemic, but a focus on potential crisis types in the development frankly, any development of policies and practices to deal with major disruptions, would probably be applicable in such a crisis that the world is dealing with today.
This illustrates one major benefit of having a crisis topology. We can all generally accept the notion that no two crises will be identical. In fact, when I teach crisis leadership, I like to use a snowflake analogy. No two crises will be the same, but there will be some common characteristics of crisis that fit within one or more categories of crises. Ultimately, it is these characteristics with their unique causes and outcomes that provide a basis for preparation. For example, in a natural disaster or crisis, a common characteristic of the situation is the inability for some or all of your employees to have access to the main business location.
In preparing for a natural disaster crisis, your company may have crafted some policies and procedures for allowing employees to work remotely, where to access necessary information from outside the local network firewall. While the COVID pandemic may not fit neatly within a natural disaster or crisis type category, although some might argue that it does, the fact that there are some common characteristics can be helpful to crisis leaders. The moral of the story is that when crisis leaders are preparing for different types of crises, there actually preparing for the best ways to deal with the characteristics of a particular type.
So let’s take a minute to review our categorical list examples in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, is there an intersection between the items on a crisis type list that accompany, perhaps your company might have created to prepare itself for a future crisis, and the crisis type that might be illustrated by a global pandemics such as COVID-19. Borrowing from the first list of nine crisis types, I could see how elements of a market shift, cash shortage regulation, human capital, or international events crisis could be helpful in the production of a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, the list as it stands, doesn’t have a global pandemic category, but would your organization be better prepared for COVID-19 if it had a basic plan for dealing with the crisis that had similar characteristics to a global pandemic? I am certain that it would. Reviewing the PWC list, we might consider the benefits of having prepared ourselves for a crisis that has elements of a financial, operational, humanitarian, or human capital crisis. From Jerry McAlister’s list of public relations crisis, we can see how a response to the pandemic might benefit from earlier preparations for the characteristics of a crisis in the categories described as acts of God, business operations, corporate moves, rumors, and staff.
Finally, from Condoleezza Rice and Amy Zegart’s list, we might find support for dealing with the COVID crisis, and our plans for navigating crisis in geopolitics, international conflict, laws regulations and policies, extraterritorial reach, and social activism. Suffice it to say that if your company had plans to deal with the potential pandemic, then not only were you better prepared the 99 percent of the world, your organization also has an extraordinary predictive capacity. If your organization did not have a pandemic response plan, it may still find great benefit in the crisis that it had prepared for. Perhaps a silver lining of COVID-19 is our realization that some of us were better prepared than others as a result of our crisis planning.
If your organization was not among those who were prepared, then COVID offers an invitation to take the necessary steps to join those who were.