Are You in Danger of Wasting a Crisis?

Continuity Insights

By RockDove Solutions:

Any idea shared by a Renaissance figure who is the father of modern politics, a legendary wartime leader, plus a modern mayor of the city of Chicago is worth a second look.

Niccolo Machiavelli, Sir Winston Churchill and Rahm Emanuel at different times have been given credit for coining, or reviving, the observation that, “you should never let a good crisis go to waste”.

Emanuel explained what he meant when, as chief of staff to the new President Barack Obama in 2008, he added: “And what I mean by that is that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

We have all been so busy just getting through the global pandemic, protecting each other and trying to keep our businesses above water, that it has been tough to look any further than today.

The pandemic still rages, but with more vaccines becoming available there is hope that sometime in 2021 we will finally reach the ‘next normal’.

Before the pandemic beset us in March 2020, only 36 percent of businesses had an emergency response plan and, of those that did, only 39 percent had anticipated a pandemic, according to one recent study.

With numbers like those, it is to be expected that on the other side of the pandemic there will be a response from many organizations without plans to create crisis and emergency plans, and for organizations with plans, the pandemic revealed gaps to address and revise. Senior executives will convene working groups, re-examine pandemic responses and attempt to identify other looming threats.

Inevitably, after the initial rush of enthusiasm and a few meetings of the working group, the sponsoring executive’s attention will start to wander as the pandemic disappears in the rear-view mirror and pressing everyday operational concerns begin to dominate the agenda. Budgets allocated to strengthening crisis and emergency preparedness will get pared down until they can no longer support any meaningful change.

When that happens, the opportunity created by the crisis will have gone to waste.

Remember that Rahm Emanuel observed that the real advantage of a crisis is that it creates an opportunity to do things you could not do before. To achieve that does not just mean creating more plans and systems. It means that the entire approach and priorities of the organization need to change to be better prepared for the next potential disaster.

Writing in 2018, well before COVID, Kathryn Mackey, a crisis counselor at the leading global agency, Ketchum, wrote in PR Daily:

“Developing the gold standard for crisis readiness is more than just a robust plan or even sporadic trainings and simulations. It begins with a mindset change – company wide – towards realizing that reputation is a crucial asset and a key consideration in every decision. How, though do you shift mindsets and take the essential steps needed for effective crisis management?”

For an answer to her question, Mackey looks towards the eight steps for effective change developed by the influential consultant and author, John Kotter, based on his 40 years of observing leaders and organizations.

Here are Kotter’s eight steps for positive change (which he updated subsequent to Mackey’s article in PR Daily):

  1. Establish a sense of urgency:  Use compelling and dramatic evidence to open leaders’ eyes to problems and new solutions.
  2. Form a guiding coalition: Develop the right team, which embraces not only corporate communications but also emergency responders, operations and other key leaders.
  3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives: A well-developed long-term vision about crisis preparedness will remind all team members of the importance of their own contribution.
  4. Enlist a volunteer army: This starts with senior leaders to underline the need for change and extends to empowering managers to communicate the importance to their own teams.
  5. Enable action by removing barriers: This means removing obstacles that hinder significant change and establish structures and protocols to respond quickly and effectively to an emerging crisis.
  6. Generate short-term wins: Recognize short-term successes – for example, encourage team members to share examples of how they used the updated systems to respond to a problem.
  7. Sustain acceleration: Cultural change does not happen overnight – sustain momentum with regular meetings and reviews, plus education and training.
  8. Institutionalize new approaches: To ensure the culture is passed on when new leaders join the organization, look for ways to talk about the changes, metrics to quantify progress, training for new staff and public recognition for the work.

Change does not happen overnight—it takes more than a few meetings of a working group, especially as the memory of the current crisis fades in the collective consciousness, new priorities emerge, and ‘business as usual’ begins to reassert itself.

However, if ever there was a moment to undertake the hard work required to create lasting change and be ready for the next major crisis, Niccolo Machiavelli, Sir Winston Churchill and Rahm Emanuel would all agree—do not let the pandemic go to waste.

Learn more from RockDove Solutions here.

Continuity Insights

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