Learning from disruption


The past six months have seen a huge level of change, for organisations, employees, communities and the country. We know some things won’t go back to what they were.

As new business continuity processes are bedded down, or adjusted, organisations are now beginning to focus on how to manage the change that has, in many cases, significantly changed their operating structures and processes.

For many, the pace of change won’t stop. Adjusting to new working conditions, customer and supply chain processes, increased or reduced demand for services and products, and rapidly softening economic conditions, will provide new challenges in the months ahead.

Reputations will continue to be tested. New expectations will need to be managed and actions will be tested against words.

Successfully navigating the coming months and year will be dependent on looking ahead and managing learnings from what worked and what didn’t work as well as planned, over the past few months.

One of the most important things an organisation can do when managing a crisis, or changed environment, is to ensure it learns from what worked and what didn’t work as well as planned. It needs to know what assumptions can still be relied upon, and which ones need to be updated. And to apply those learnings to its operational decision-making / crisis management planning to ensure the organisation is able to continually adapt to ‘new normal”, or respond to a crisis incident.

COVID-19 has proved to be the biggest test of crisis preparedness for organisations of all sizes, and it will continue to for many months to come. In many cases, conventional crisis management plans were upended due to the fluid and complex nature of the issue.

The same reputational issues that organisations were exposed to before COVID-19 still exist. However, organisations are now operating differently. Management and operational teams may not be physically together. Some people who were in crisis management teams may not be in those roles anymore. There is a greater reliance on digital news and social channels as traditional media operations dramatically reduce.

What you thought was right pre COVID-19 lockdown may no longer be. What your crisis management plan covered may now not be as appropriate as it was. Your monitoring processes may not be focussed on the right channels. And your team may need new capabilities to deal with a virtual crisis decision-making and media world.

COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated the value of being prepared and ready to move quickly, with confidence and to demonstrate commitment to employees, customers and stakeholders.

Our 2020 Reputation Reality survey findings showed there was still a big gap between the appreciation of reputation and actions needed to protect it - nearly every leader agreed reputation is a primary asset, but fewer organisations were confident they were well enough prepared, or have the experience, to respond effectively to a crisis. There was also a decreasing focus on crisis preparedness. The lack of confidence in digital channels and communications is very telling, especially since the biggest disruption for businesses was the need to rapidly move, and rely on, digital and social channels.

Key findings included:

  • Directors and senior executives had little confidence in their organisations’ 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). They also had 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)
  • A relatively low number of organisations that have a Crisis Communication Plan test them at least annually. 50% of Australian organisations have a crisis communication plan. This is 14% lower than the year before. In New Zealand, 69% have a crisis communication plan. This is 3% less than in 2019.
  • Of the organisations that have a crisis communications plan:
    • only 7% of Australian organisations test it every six months and a further 18% tests them once a year. This is 8% less than in 2019.
    • only 11% of New Zealand organisations test them every six months and a further 26% only test them once a year. This is 7% less than 2019.

A crisis plan is of little use if it’s left to gather dust, or people haven’t been regularly trained to use it. If you can’t respond fast enough in a crisis you risk losing control of the agenda and being forced into being reactive.