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Why it pays to keep things simple

However complicated a crisis may appear, adopting a straightforward approach is generally the best way of tackling it.

Essentially, that means having a clear strategy in place, one that has been road tested, reviewed and kept fully up to date. With some of the preparation already in place, your time will be freed up to tailor the corporate response to the particular need.

While recognising the need to be prepared, some organisations can still become bogged down in unwieldy documents that will prove of little use when called upon in a crisis.

Leaner and meaner

Lengthy directories of names and contact details, endless written procedures and flowcharts are not only unhelpful under pressure, they require studious and time-intensive maintenance.

The more expansive the disaster recovery plan document, the more likely it is to be out of date and of little practical use. The best crisis documents are short and to the point. They offer you flexibility, and generally require minimal updating. Producing a pared-back document is an invaluable way of sharpening the focus of the right people, on the right things, at the right time – and in good time.

Your first-tier document should address top-line concerns, setting out step-by-step guidance that will ensure consistency of approach. It might include:

  • The name and contact details of the organisation’s crisis co-ordinator and spokesperson.
  • A checklist or series of questions that help you assess the exact nature and extent of the crisis.
  • An agreed but flexible list of first steps, based on your existing strategy.
  • An explanatory timeline of who will be doing what in the first few hours, for example the establishment of specialist crisis working groups to address defined tasks, a list of the roles that should be represented, and the mechanism by which they will report back.
  • Templates for preliminary holding statements that enable a fast media response if necessary.
  • Contacts for specialist support – IT, legal, PR and crisis-handling or regulatory advisers.

This document is important to get right. It acts as the ignition key to your organisation’s crisis response.

Divide and cool

Crisis working groups are crucial to the next stage of the process. In smaller organisations, they might only consist of one or two people, but this is where you can make the most of their specialist skills and knowledge, matching horses to courses.

It is all too easy – especially in large organisations – to involve an entire management team when facing an emergency, but this can result in corporate paralysis.

The day-to-day work of the organisation must retain focus, and any crisis-handling strategy should ensure only those directly involved, or whose expertise is essential, are pulled away from their normal duties.

Properly configured working groups are essential to taking the heat out of a crisis situation. They can quickly identify and isolate key issues, liaise with any specialist support that might be needed, and then concentrate on devising solutions and recommending actions.

Working groups might include legal and finance, PR and communications, HR, operations and health & safety and IT. Larger organisations may wish to create second-tier strategy documents for each of its working groups. Since these will only be concerned with the specific scope of a particular group, they need not rival War and Peace for girth.

Fine tuning

You may wish to run a full simulation exercise once a year, based on a scenario that can stretch your staff and stress-test your strategic planning and decision making. Some organisations prefer to stage simulations without warning staff in order to replicate as closely as possible a live situation. The results can then be assessed, and refinements made to the plan.

Conclusion

If you intend to review your strategic planning documents and procedures, be brutal: if your crisis pack is more than a couple of millimetres thick in printed form, take another look at it.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs understood the value and challenges of keeping things lean. He said: “That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Sound advice for anyone embarking on the creation of a new strategy – when it comes to a crisis, there are always plenty of mountains that need moving, so keep it simple.

Article written by Anthony Longden of Alder Media. Contact Anthony at enquiries@alder-uk.com

Alder Media

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

Steffan Groch

Partner and Head of Regulatory - Head of Sectors

I head up DWF's national Regulatory team as well as leading the firm’s ‘go to market’ sector expertise. I am also Chair of the UK Health and Safety Lawyers Association.