Are you ready for the next one? Have we learnt the lessons yet?


It seems strange to read survey results showing organisations are not as prepared as they should be for a natural disaster given most have had to respond to COVID-19 related crises over the past 6 to 8 months. 

Organisations and business learnt (sometimes painfully) about the need to have an ICT infrastructure that allows people to work from home, or remotely. They invested and made it happen. Many created new e-commerce and supply and distribution processes. And some have fundamentally changed the way they make decisions. 

Through all of this surely they also learnt about the need to be better prepared for a crisis, whether it be a natural disaster, cyber threats or multiple other forms of crisis..

We knew going into the March COVID-19 period, when countries were shutting down their borders, businesses were shutting down and employees were working from home at short notice, that many organisations were not ready for such an abrupt change.

SenateSHJ’s 2020 Trans-Tasman Reputation Reality survey of senior leaders highlighted the decreasing focus on crisis preparedness and a low level of confidence in being able to manage a crisis. This was particularly the case for social and digital media channels in a high-pressure environment.

Those surveyed had little confidence in their organisation’s ability to effectively carry out their crisis communication plan (19% in New Zealand – down from 27% in 2019 - and 15% in Australia – down from 22% in 2019). Added to this was a low level of confidence in managing social media and digital channels in a crisis (23% very confident in New Zealand and 18% very confident in Australia).

Of more significance was the relatively low number of organisations who only tested their Crisis Communication Plan at least annually. While Business Continuity Plans (BCPs) were being used more widely, both tools were being used less than in previous years. BCPs were used 3% less than 2019 and crisis communication plans were being used less (14% in Australia and 3% in New Zealand).

How organisations manage a crisis is crucial to their long-term reputation, yet the survey results showed little time and resource was being invested in preparing adequately for crisis incidents. Organisations were literally putting their reputation at risk.

A crisis plan is of little use if it has been gathering dust. It needs to be a simple, current, familiar to the crisis management team and tested at least once a year. If it isn’t, the organisation will not be able to respond fast enough, resulting in others setting the agenda and potentially catastrophic damage to their reputation.  

If a crisis strikes, clear communication and remaining calm under pressure are the most important leadership attributes for the person leading the crisis management team. If people don’t know their roles, have planned processes and messaging that is well understood, the result is unlikely to be as good as it should, or needs to be.

In our experience, common problems include people in the crisis teams have moved on, or changed roles, new team members may not be confident in managing a crisis, and existing content (if it exists) and organisational details will be out-of-date.

The risks that were facing organisations before COVID-19 still exist. The next reputational crisis could only be hours or days away. Are you ready? Have you learnt the lesson of not being prepared?