By Judith Moore, Head of Crisis and Issues Management, Europe
The rapidly unfolding situation regarding COVID-19 feels in many ways unparalleled. Entire cities closing all but essential services; workers being told to stay at home; global industries that were thriving several weeks ago now sounding the alarm that their future is at risk.
Businesses certainly face a unique set of challenges and immensely difficult decisions. How to avoid mass layoffs and support staff while protecting the company’s future? How to maintain revenue-generating activities in the face of falling consumer demand, or for certain industries, political directives to shut up shop, with little clarity on the timeline or criteria for when restrictions will be lifted and ‘normal service’ can resume.
Yet even in the face of such challenges, the tried and tested rules of crisis management still apply.
First, organisations that manage crises effectively can emerge with a stronger reputation and stronger relationships. Key audiences – employees, partners, suppliers, consumers, stakeholders – are seeking transparency, clarity and regular communication. While businesses scramble for solutions, the expectation is not that they have all the answers. Rather, what is needed is consistency of message, facts and regular updates on developments and corporate actions.
Second, preparation remains the key to navigating this crisis with reputation intact. Scenario planning for both the short-term impact of the COVID-19 epidemic and the long-term recovery strategy is critical for businesses to not only survive the immediate uncertainty, but be well-placed to thrive once life returns to normal. The level of uncertainty means businesses will have to respond to fast-changing developments around them; but it doesn’t mean they can’t scenario plan, continually assess risk and communicate the actions they are taking to provide clarity and reassurance that they are doing all they can.
Third and finally, we should remember that this is, above all, a human crisis, the impact of which is being felt by people across the world. Corporate language and information vacuums must be avoided if businesses want to maintain trust and instill confidence that they can, and will, emerge from these difficult times.