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Top 3 Ways to Manage Crisis – Before and After COVID-19

Brian Hall - March 17, 2020 - Coronavirus Legal Issues

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Long before the novel coronavirus, companies have had to respond to any number of crises in order to ensure business continuity. These may be legal claims and lawsuits, reputational attacks, financial disasters, or any combination of threats. Most companies that have been around long enough have had to endure some kind of crisis. Whether you may be one of those companies or are experiencing crisis for the first time, how you reacted likely has and how you will react can determine the fate of your business. With so much scariness and unpredictability around these predicaments, take solace in the fact that crisis management has worked before and it can work again. Here is a collection of our Top 3 ways to manage crisis:

1.Prioritization is Key.

Priority 1 – Health and Safety: Particularly in light of the coronavirus, the impetus for this article, the health and safety of people should come first. This includes your employees/contractors, vendors/suppliers and customers. Even the most automated companies, including those relying heavily on AI, are reliant upon people at some level. Ask these questions as a company: Who is most at risk? How do we best protect them to ensure business continuity?

Priority 2 – Finances: Once the above is answered, oftentimes the second priority becomes centered around finances. Being mindful of your bottom-line is not being callous or heartless, it is being in business. Failure to address the economics of your business on a more regular and in-depth basis can result in transitioning from one crisis, once solved, to another. For a start-up, re-evaluate your burn rate and recalculate your runway. Don’t only think about cutting expenses, however. We have seen so much innovation during the coronavirus outbreak, including pursuit of new opportunities and thus increased revenue. For example, an Austin cheese shop is going virtual to ensure access to information and ongoing sales. In another instance, an Austin-based health start-up is offering a reward to the creation of an at-home coronavirus test kit. For more mature companies, the questions may be different but the outcome sought is generally the same. Regardless, oftentimes business continuity reveals business opportunity. It is ok to capitalize, but do so within the law and don’t fall victim to scammers.

Priority 3 – Operations: A pilot friend of mine once told me a story about learning how to fly. He recounted that during a simulation, all controls went dark. There was no more auto-pilot. As a trainee, my friend spent all his time trying to figure out why his control panel was dark and how he could turn back on auto-pilot. It did not end well. During debrief, his flight instructor told him the number one job of a pilot is to “Fly The Plane! You have to prioritize one job outcome, no matter what is happening around you, and that is to fly the plane.” My friend listened and learned. After receiving his license, real life tested him again when his auto-pilot failed him and he was in clouds and fog with no line of site to the runway. What did he do? He flew the plane, safely to landing, by trusting his coordinates, listening to the control tower, and relying upon his training. So, remember, when crisis strikes, while you must manage it, do not forget that business continuity necessarily requires you to continue to operate using many things that are not broken, at risk, or impacted by the crisis. Doing so can help ensure the crisis is not compounded.

2.Communicate Early and Often. One of our core values is: Communicate Early and Often. To Traverse Legal, that means the following:

  • Send information to those who need it
  • Seek information in a way you can use it
  • 7 C’s (clear, concise, concrete, correct, consider the speaker, complete and courteous)

In times of crisis, I impress this upon my clients seeking our crisis management counsel. With the onset of coronvirus, this has meant dealing with challenges of working from home, including identifying virtual meeting software, communication cadence and protocol for client expectation management. How many emails have you received from the airlines, hotels, and other service providers? Has your company communicated with your customer? Has it done so effectively?

As with any communication, the first question to answer is: What message do you want the recipient to take away from your communication? Less may be more, and transparency can be key. Tone is always important. Depending upon the situation, you will need to decide whether to be vulnerable, apologetic, steadfast, or something else. Ultimately, whether that communication be internal (should be more often) or external, know your listeners are seeking not only information, but a also genuine delivery of your message.

3.Find Your Allies, Share and Take Care. You do not have to go it alone in times of crisis. There are likely people who have already lived it and survived to tell about it, so to speak. Traverse Legal, and no doubt other service providers, should be able to help. Traverse Legal always has said: “We have likely helped a client just like you with a problem just like yours.” So, step back and ask: Who should your company be connecting with in this time of crisis? Who are your allies? Who is your crisis management team (i.e. key advisors) so that you do not need to shoulder the burden of your entire company or this pandemic? While the coronavirus may be forcing less in-person human interaction, the fact remains that you likely still have access to and the need for others. Oftentimes, finding your tribe, as they say, is how you, and your company, will thrive.

Traverse Legal is in many ways like many of our clients. We were once a start-up. We now are an industry leader. We are not immune from crisis, including the coronavirus. So here are some of things we have done to pull together our community, share value and care about all of people:

  • We participated in an emergency virtual meeting with other top law firms to exchange best practices for both law firm business continuity (e.g. courthouse interruption, client management, practice technology, etc.) and client opportunity and service (e.g. general counsel check-in calls, work from home policies, etc.). We want to share our experiences, even if that means doing so with our “competitors” since we know it will ultimately benefit all during this crisis.
  • We, internally, are relying upon our continued use of the Entrepreneurial Operating System, including for remote work. This helps ensure we fulfill another one of our Core Values: Treat Team and Clients Like Family.
  • We are proactively checking in on our people, our clients, those in our communities, and others. We want to help and be part of the solution.

In times of crisis, crisis management is top of mind. The hope is that when this coronavirus crisis passes, as this author truly believes it ultimately will, we all remain mindful that real crisis management begins before the crisis and endures long after.

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