Creating a crisis-resilient organization: Why your company needs to prepare BEFORE a crisis and how to begin

Our interconnected, global and digital world means every organization lives with constant threats – from cyber attacks to natural disasters, disgruntled employees to human error. It’s hard not to feel fearful or overwhelmed. But fear and disregard for risk can be the biggest hindrances to effective crisis preparedness and management in an organization. Fear causes us to retreat, put up barriers and try to protect ourselves. Disregard for preparation only fuels potential threats.

How, then, can you manage and prepare without becoming overwhelmed by or fearful of risk? The answer might not be as grueling as you think. Think about creating a crisis-resilient organization, not a crisis-free organization. In contrast to an organization that is fearful of crisis, a crisis-resilient one recognizes opportunity, embraces risk and opens minds and hearts within and outside of the organization. The process of creating a crisis-resilient organization doesn’t have to be hard, but it does take focused energy and effort and a willingness to stick with it.

By definition, a crisis is unexpected and generally sudden. It disrupts the normalcy of work, organizational flow or system processes. In crisis there is hazard and risk, but also opportunity. If your organization is not properly prepared or positioned, the hazard can grow exponentially and the opportunity can be lost. But, if you have built a crisis-resilient organization, crises can be experienced as opportunities to learn, grow and respond in ways that minimize hazard and risk and lead to meaningful changes and adaptations that foster improvements and growth within your organization.

Ideally, proper preparation can also prevent or lessen the intensity of an impending crisis. This doesn’t mean “spinning” something to look better. What it does mean is honest, ethical behavior, hard work and a willingness to make changes and adjustments in vulnerable or antiquated systems and processes. It means your organization and your leadership is focused on and anchored in strong values and morals.

In part one of this three part series, I’ll identify ways in the pre-crisis phase to create an organization that is crisis resilient. Ideally, all parts of your preparation, including culture building and planning, will be integrated, ongoing and cyclical and rooted in the actions outlined below. Continual preparation must be part of your routine.

The first four steps to a crisis-resilient organization

To get you started, I’ve created a list of FOUR things you should do to prepare your organization for crises before you even begin writing your crisis plan. The purpose of these efforts is to create a crisis-resilient organization during the pre-crisis phase. Remember, this list isn’t exhaustive, and it’s not a stagnant endeavor. The process of preparing for a crisis is ongoing and adaptive given your environment, evolving risk factors, changing personnel and so on


1. Align your organization with causes that are meaningful to the work you do and communities in which you operate and that support your mission.

Supporting issues and causes that matter to your organization and the work you do shows that you are engaged in and responsive to the world around you. Your involvement must be authentic – meaning leadership and employees are given time, space and opportunity to contribute to the cause or issue. Your actions need to back up your words and whatever money you put towards the cause. This can go a long way in establishing organizational reputation and a reservoir of goodwill. That reservoir will serve you well if/when a crisis surfaces.


2. Create an internal culture that is supportive of employees and customers and encouraging of open and honest communication.

One of the biggest mistakes organizations make is stifling employee communication or stalling that communication at the management level. Your employees are your greatest asset. Recognize that they are closest to the processes and systems you have in place and therefore the most likely to recognize a risk or impending issue. Encourage upward and cross-team communication and reward those efforts. Hesitancy of employees to communicate perceived threats, impending breakdowns, and outdated or inefficient processes, and ineffective systems for doing so, lead to significant organizational crises.


3. Know your environment.

This may seem simple, but it’s not an easy task. Organizations can’t and don’t function in a bubble. Those that do eventually fail. They become stagnant as a consequence of failure to adapt to changing external and internal factors. Every organization exists in a sphere of social, cultural, industrial, technological and political change. Knowing and predicting changes in these realms and how they can or will affect your organization is crucial to creating a crisis-resilient organization. Be educated, include your teams in these conversations and work toward responding and adapting to changing norms on a regular and intentional basis. If you do this well, you can manage a risk and create an opportunity before it becomes a crisis.


4. Build partnerships and collaborations within your industry and community.

It might seem counter intuitive to be “buddies” with your competitors or similar-functioning organizations, but fostering these connections and mutual respect as part of your normal operating procedures will allow you to draw on them in the event of an issue escalation or crisis. Issue identification, knowledge building, resource sharing, and legislative and political issue partnerships are all benefits of establishing and maintaining these relationships. Organizations that have these relationships prior to major crises have even been saved by their competitors in times of crisis.

Crises can be fantastic opportunities – if viewed effectively and experienced by a crisis-resilient organization. Engaging in the practices and actions outlined above will position your organization to embrace opportunity that is hidden within crises and potentially emerge improved, stronger and better positioned for future success.

This blog post covered the pre-crisis phase of a crisis-resilient organization. Part two in this series will unpack practices and approaches during the crisis phase that reinforce and contribute to a crisis-resilient organization.


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