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Post-Crisis Management

By Eric Johnson

What happens once a crisis is over?  Do you go back to normal?  What are the expectations of management?  Employees? Customers? 

Harvard Business School magazine penned a crisis management article years ago that outlined a process for crisis managers in organizations to best deal with issues that affect the organization holistically and that are a part of the public domain.  It was an operating plan that discussed scenario planning, triggering events, actions and responses, and a number of other elements specific to dealing with the issue at hand.  Additionally, it established a control and command component to centralize decision-making and messaging with a defined org. structure similar to any business unit.  This was all wrapped around a continuous improvement program designed to create a system of practice such that the organization would be prepared at a moment’s notice. “Well done”, I thought.

But what happens after a crisis is over?

The article didn’t really address this aspect. My assumption was that things would go back to normal, everyone would continue doing what they were involved in pre-crisis and life would go on.  As I read on, I wondered what if life didn’t just “go on”.  What if there were massive changes after the crises?

What is a “new normal” after a crisis has ended? And what are the ground rules?

As the country begins to open up, new social and economic practices will become the norm.  Until a vaccine is widely adopted, economic activity will be lower than pre-crisis levels as the threat of infection looms over a large portion of the population. Restaurants and other social spaces with be a minimal capacity and social protective equipment such as masks and gloves will continue to be worn, especially in those portions of the country with denser populations. As a result, organizations will have to adapt both their processes and their people.

Here are some guiding principles for reacting not only at this post-crisis point, but for others as well.

  1. Take stock of your people.   Employees will be in a heightened state of anxiety after a crisis as the level of unease and uncertainty can continue long after a crisis has ended.  In particular, employees are keenly aware of how information flows within an organization, and this in itself can create anxieties that can overwhelm groups, cause mistakes, and cause the departure of key personnel.  Be sure to provide services for employees to maintain mental health and make sure the executive presence is clearly visible.  Walk the floor and talk to employees.  This goes a long way.
  2. Take stock in your customers.  Understand your customers’ new normal and how their new preferences may impact the business.  Ask how you can be of better service and know that it is OK if you won’t be able to meet all expectations.  Service is a tremendous differentiator and can be a key strategic advantage after a major change.
  3. Create a new system of communication.  Develop new ways for employees to stay informed.  Establish task groups or committees that are both cross functional and cross-level such that all internal stakeholders are at the table and can both provide and receive information pertinent to their daily work.  Try to manage the conversation, but be prepared for topics such as process changes that while seemingly difficult to discuss, become necessary for both comfort and preparedness.
  4. Wind down the crisis center and establish a post-crisis executive. The crisis center of operation’s existence is to manage a crisis, and as long as it is active, it will have jurisdiction and will affect decision-making.  By winding down the crisis center, it sends a clear message that a transition has taken place.  However, as changes are still potentially occurring or being managed at a lower level, there needs to be governance around the lesser changes that will occur and tha can potentially have lasting effects on the business.  Having a singular individual with a team or committee to monitor these effects creates ownership as in any other aspect of the business and can center knowledge that can be used for future action, while reducing the tension of the emergency situation.

​As crises wind down, the changes that occur in the business can have lasting effects on the people, products, and many other parts of the business that can be easily overlooked in the desire to get back to normal operations.  The “new normal” is a different way of doing business than in the past and should be recognized as such.  Keeping this in mind will allow the organization to maintain its focus on the customer and continue to provide a hopefully seamless transition that inspires confidence and a positive future outlook.

At Propulo, our focus has always been on safety culture and operational excellence.

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