5 strategies for planning before a business crisis

4 min read

Today, more than two years after the global outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, it appears many companies are finally starting to see the light (or at least more light) at the end of the tunnel. Many of them faced a business crisis and somehow managed to survive.

Meanwhile, health officials are already trying to anticipate the next pandemic when it happens because one thing is certain: it will.

As Matthew Bayliss, a professor at the University of Liverpool and director of the city’s new Epidemiology Institute, told the Financial Times, preparing means “rigorous anticipation and planning of what is expected”.

5 Strategies for Creating a Business Crisis Plan

As the founder of a typical online business, I was fortunate to own a business that was easily adaptable to many of the work changes related to the pandemic – such as increases in remote work and online retail. However, there was nothing that could prepare me for the impact of the pandemic, and I was not alone.

A 2020 study found that only 12% of companies reported being highly prepared for the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

To prepare yourself and your business, here are five expert-backed strategies for planning a business crisis and building resilience for whatever the future holds.

1. Rethink your way of thinking

It’s hard not to view the Covid-19 pandemic as an aberration – a pause in business as usual. While a certain degree of shock and disappointment is inevitable, viewing a crisis as an anomaly can also harm your ability to adapt and move forward.


Because you risk getting stuck in a what if – what if this never happened? What if we did something different? Instead of focusing on “what now?”

Harvard Business Review recommends a shift in thinking to help your company become more resilient:

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See crises as inevitable disruptions that must be prepared, managed, and capitalized on for competitive opportunities, rather than one-off events defended against emergencies. Such a shift will help the organization make proactive, future-oriented decisions during the crisis that allow it to thrive and shape the post-crisis landscape.”

Like accounting, annual employee retreats, or any other routine business process, crisis planning can become part of regularly scheduled programming.

2. Create a communication strategy (or different strategies) ahead of time

When a crisis inevitably occurs, as a leader, your first priority is to reassure your employees and customers that your business has control over things.

One important rule of thumb: Create a communication strategy (or multiple strategies) ahead of time. Take it from agricultural experts who are well versed in regular planning for crises – such as natural disasters that wipe out entire crops.

Jim Schweigert, president of Gro Alliance, told Seed World:

“Don’t start crisis calling when you have a crisis. It really should be a part of your business planning strategy from day one.”

At the Gro Alliance, Schweigert and his team perform exercises called scenario planning. During the annual management team meeting:

“He and his team discuss what might happen if the industry goes in a certain direction — that way, they can determine responses to each scenario, including the mission leader responsible for employees, customers, and suppliers.”

Choose a recurring event where your management team can spend time going through different crisis scenarios and outline a communication plan for each.

3. Consider appointing a Chief Security Officer

Harvard Business Review contributor Juliette Kayem has spent years training and advising companies on disaster management. She says that locating the key security role within the organization is an important part of preparing for a crisis.

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While many companies and start-ups, in particular, have recently established external security teams (with names such as “advisory boards of trust”), Kayyem recommends hiring a security leader as a permanent and prominent part of your organization.

Kim wrote that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many companies hired senior security officers, after which other C-class roles proliferated, such as chief information security officers and, more recently, chief medical officers or health officials.

“Although all of these C roles focus on different threats, the leader’s response will be essentially the same whether it’s an active shooter, earthquake, cyber breach or virus: Execute a plan, minimize impact, and lead the company.”

One role is needed to oversee all of these efforts.

Establishing a Chief Security Officer role, if one does not already exist, is an effective way to reassure your customers. Take GitHub for example: Last year, when they hired their first security officer, Mike Hanley, they published a blog on the topic to inform the world of this important security move.

Hanley wrote, “I am excited to work with the team and the community to ensure that GitHub continues to lead as the most trusted place for developers, ecosystems, and teams to come together and create.”

All important stakeholders – users, employees, partners, etc. – will feel more confident knowing that your company is actively protected even before a crisis strikes.

4. Push yourself to think long term

A crisis occurs – for example, a virus that causes the entire world to stop, including your business. What now?

Your first intuition may be to go into triage mode and focus all your efforts on stopping the bleeding. But as unexpected and difficult as it may seem, focusing on long-term outcomes rather than short-term solutions is the key to surviving the crisis.

At Jotform, we’ve continued to develop new features and apps that we believed would better serve our current and future users in the long run. For example, we released our Store Builder app because we realized that one in three apps built through Jotform already includes payment forms.

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Or take Henrik Ekelund, founder and CEO of BTS group in Sweden. In 2020, Ekelund realized that his company, a global consulting firm for personal workshops, would take a major hit. His strategy for getting his business through the crisis may have raised some eyebrows.

As he told the World Economic Forum:

“We are committed to maintaining 100% of our 1,200 employees without any reduction in their salaries, we have moved our business to digital, changed our sales strategy, and built a large cash reserve by deferring dividends, bonuses and taking out loans.”

You may be wondering: What was the result?

Ekelund said that despite losing 70% of their revenue initially, 2021 turned into a new record year, with a 20% increase in revenue and profits compared to 2019.

Long-term thinking during a crisis can make your company not only more resilient but more profitable than ever before.

5. Improve the resilience of society

During the pandemic, the virus wasn’t the only widespread force affecting businesses. It was the last emergence of social justice movements.

As I wrote before, we live in a time of turmoil. Many people are determined to make the world a better place. As business owners, we should expect this kind of activity. We can also do what we can to support it.

Harvard Business Review authors explain:

“Business [needs] To play a role in larger issues outside the confines of traditional companies. Leaders should strive to reduce the volatility and fragility of the systems and societies on which they depend, and strengthen the social fabric through efforts such as reducing polarization, improving both societal and business value, and reimagining business models for sustainability.”

You may be wondering: What can my company do to help?

Take advantage of the strengths of your business and start there.

Becoming more sustainable, championing diversity, and helping causes that reduce inequality will improve the resilience of society. And helping to make society more resilient will eventually help our business thrive, too.

last thoughts

As entrepreneurs, we should really anticipate and plan hard for the company’s next crisis, whether caused by a virus, war, or natural disaster.

As history shows, crises inevitably happen, and companies that do not plan for them become victims of them.

Harvard Business Review recently noted, “As we’ve seen with Covid-19, more resilient companies have fared better, and some have emerged as new winners.”

Resilience isn’t just a survival mechanism – it can also be a secret weapon.

Featured Image Credit: Pima Lama via unplash.com

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