Keep Calm. You're Prepared. (Right?)
A Changing Threat Landscape
Manufacturers are already used to dealing with delays and run-of-the-mill challenges, but they are increasingly finding they must navigate more serious workplace threats and disruptions. They are responding by implementing security, crisis management, and business continuity plans to help prepare for, respond to, and mitigate interruptions.
“Black swan” events are nightmare events that catch even some of the most prepared companies unaware. In a 2013 MAPI survey, 62% of responding companies indicated they had performed a formal threat assessment to list potential threats and crises that could impact normal business operations. That same percentage reported experiencing a crisis that disrupted their respective business operations within the previous three years.
Hindsight Is 20/20
While the events most often planned for are site- or natural disaster–related, businesses should also include workplace violence, terrorism, and cyberattacks in their business preparedness efforts. This is especially true given the nature of black swan events as those that (1) take place outside of regular expectations, (2) carry an extreme impact, and (3) seem obvious, explainable, and predictable in hindsight. This was made very clear in the events of the past year, including several attacks throughout Europe (such as in Paris), multiple instances of hacking, and workplace fatalities.
It is instructive to apply this lens in examining the 2015 attacks in Paris. Risk assessment tools tend to bias toward demonstrable, quantifiable, and immediate effects. In a 2014 survey, over half of MAPI member companies said they ranked travel to the Middle East as a threat and prohibited travel to countries in that region. By comparison, only 14% reported restricting travel to parts of Europe. This restriction did not extend to countries in Western Europe, traditionally thought to be “safe.” A study by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) echoed that finding; 92% of its respondents did not have any travel restrictions or security guidance in place for France prior to the November attacks.
Reputations at Risk
The magnitude and impact of the attacks was unimagined. Companies were left scrambling to ensure employee safety for those located in or traveling within France, whether for business or personal reasons. This is important because companies are required to act with watchfulness, attention, caution, and prudence toward employees and the public, and this extends to employees while traveling. Companies that do not meet this duty of care will be met with increased liability. Events such as the Paris attacks give companies reason to pause, reflect on their current policies, and reassess priorities and travel security policies in light of the changing threat landscape.
That Paris would be subject to a series of coordinated terrorist attacks might not seem as obvious in hindsight as the Deepwater Horizon’s “well from hell,” the Exxon Valdez spill, or the events of September 11. Some argue, however, that the attacks in Paris were predictable given the attacks in other European cities, the extremist network present in the country, the earlier assault on Charlie Hebdo, and France’s airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. Regardless, a company’s response to a crisis will be judged, especially in the age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. Companies could be held accountable to a standard that didn’t exist at the time, with decisions taken along the way heavily scrutinized.
However, to quote Mike Tyson, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Even with the best-laid plans, businesses can take a hit, and the plan for how to react becomes paramount.
5 Tips to Keep in Mind During a Crisis
At last year’s Corporate Crisis Management Forum, Pillsbury shared with attendees some best practices to keep in mind during times of crisis:
- Do not believe initial reports coming from the field
- Assess the situation by deploying people in the field who have an objective eye
- Determine your strategy and goals
- Establish a clear and consistent message that resonates and communicates your narrative
- Implement strategy and tactics
The firm went on to highlight that it is especially helpful to have an outside communications firm handle the media and other communications aspects to ensure everyone stays on message and communicates that message to all necessary channels. Moreover, a centralized approach will help the company win in the three courts that matter most during a crisis: public opinion, regulatory opinion, and an actual court of law. One company respondent reaffirms that sentiment: “The impact of media and speed that inaccurate information spreads makes everything worse—the communications people are super important.” While all signs point to the value of communications and having a third party involved, hiring a third-party spokesperson in crisis situations appears to be a key missing piece in companies' crisis response plans.
Preparing for 21st-Century Threats
Whether the threat is clocking in at work or emanates from outside the organization, the costs to business are real in terms of employees, reputation, and bottom line. Preparing your organization through pre-existing plans, security measures, and guidance are extremely important, as is a team to manage a disaster when it hits. All provide the stability and support to gain a handle on situations, limit exposure and liability, and ensure that employees and the business weather any crisis.