Managing an extended crisis response

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to create challenges for organisations across the globe, many communicators – from senior corporate affairs executives to frontline public information officers and digital responders – are being forced to manage a live response for far longer than many have ever had to previously. 

This has given rise to a unique set of challenges, such as team members suffering from burnout and fatigue. We’ve worked with teams around the world to help them to plan and prepare for extended crisis response and here are some tips to help ensure that your team is well placed to navigate unprecedented times.

Rotate and alternate to avoid burnout

It’s people, not processes, that manage crises, so make sure that you give your team every chance to succeed by managing the people and time available effectively. Fatigue impairs decision-making and can quickly suck motivation from a team, so make sure that you plan accordingly.

Rotas are used during a crisis as a tactic to manage resources and prevent burnout, and are particularly important in a protracted response. To make a rota system work, you’ll also need to be able to draw on alternates to supplement team members. Although ideally these would be experienced communicators, non-comms roles can also be drawn on to support with admin, monitoring, light-touch digital engagement and media handling activities.

Develop a ‘people first’ strategy to serve as your guiding star

In a crisis it’s easy for activities to become overly reactive and for teams to lose their clarity of purpose as a situation evolves. It’s important that you develop a simple, clear strategy to provide team members with clarity of purpose and to ensure that tactical activities remain aligned to a wider set of objectives and imperatives.

Developing a ‘people first’ strategy will help ensure that the welfare of people remains your priority; guiding your actions and how and what you communicate.   

Maintain action and information logs to help you track progress and stay focused

A key ‘to do’ for any crisis team. Latest known information should be regularly logged in a shared document (e.g. a Google doc) that can be accessed by all team members to ensure that everyone is working from a common operating picture. Related to this is the action log. Given the volume of items competing for your attention, priorities can quickly become unclear. To mitigate this it’s important that actions are proactively logged, prioritised, assigned to owners, and their progress tracked through to completion. These should then be reassessed on at least a daily basis. 

These logs will also come in handy for the post-crisis evaluation, where you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the response, so that lessons can be learned. This is why it is also a good idea to keep a diary during a crisis.

Keep team meetings sharp and focused    

Although it’s important for teams to convene regularly, nothing drains energy and productivity from a crisis response faster than protracted, meandering meetings. In an extended crisis, this risk is magnified. 

Beyond the very first crisis team meeting, which may take longer as roles will need to be assigned, and ways of working agreed, team meetings should last no longer than 30 minutes. This is particularly true when relying on videoconferencing, as attention spans are shorter. 

The meeting should provide an opportunity for checking the welfare of staff, the progress and status of actions, sharing new/pertinent information and agreeing priority actions to complete before the next meeting. Some evaluation of the response can also be done in real-time, so it’s important to check-in with team members to get a sense of what is working and what isn’t within the response, to enable you to ‘course correct’ as necessary.

Conduct regular scenario planning and risk mapping to enable you to remain on a proactive footing

The best crisis responses are proactive, as opposed to reactive. In a crisis there will always be things competing for your attention. Drawing on a relatively simple process such as scenario planning and risk mapping can help put you on a proactive footing and ensure that you don’t fall into the trap of continually ‘responding to stuff’. 

How is it done? 

  1. Think about how the situation could escalate and what the likely triggers and impacts will be. This can be structured by business function (e.g. HR, Finance, Legal etc.) and/or by audience (e.g. media, staff, political stakeholders etc.). 
  2. You can then rank the risks identified by likelihood and business impact. 
  3. Prioritise those considered most likely to happen, and with the most significant business impact, and aim to mitigate them, the others can be tracked and reassessed. 

Use a simple grid like this one to help you scenario plan

a planning grid with impact on one axis and likelihood on the other axis

Download a copy of the Scenario Planning Grid

If you aren’t in the midst of a crisis response at the moment, we have a full guide to planning and preparing for a crisis.