Don't Wait to Start Your Crisis Management Playbook
As we head into the second half of what has thus far been a wild 2020, it has driven home the fact that no business is immune to the unexpected. Having a business continuity plan flexible enough to adapt to any scenario — be it hurricanes, tornadoes, pandemics, riots, or murder hornets — can mean the difference between staying afloat or watching everything you worked for go up in smoke.
That said, there is no one right answer to what a business continuity plan should cover. Every business is different, and every crisis has its own challenges, but that doesn’t mean a print shop — regardless of size, service mix, or location — can’t have a solid plan in place to cover any eventuality.
“Business continuity plans come in various shapes and sizes,” notes Elaine Scrima, VP of operations for GSP Companies. “While most think of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, fires, tornados, and earthquakes as the reason to develop a plan, really, business continuity planning can be used for any interruption to your day-to- day operation. What you implement is determined by the length of time you anticipate being down. While you cannot plan for every conceivable interruption, what you will find is that having a plan will cover the majority, and you may pick and choose what part of your plan you need at what time.”
Where to Start?
It might seem like something to put off until things calm down a bit, or until you have more time, but the reality is that for those who don’t already have a business continuity plan in place, the time to start working on one is right now. There will never truly be a perfect point in time when you can pause to dedicate a large chunk of time toward the process, so don’t keep pushing it off.
First and foremost, start by assembling a team. A good business continuity plan will touch on every department and every function, which means having input from all parts of the business is critical to ensuring the plan will function as expected when a crisis does hit. Form a committee with individuals representing every facet of the business and make sure to have their input and feedback on all the proposed ideas and procedures before implementing anything.
Once the team is assembled, the first priority should be, unsurprisingly, the people. “The main thing to include is a communication plan for your staff and your customers,” says Scrima. “Is everyone okay? Are we open? When will we open? What assistance do we need to re-open and how do we communicate to our customers?”
Define the key people in each department, and establish a clear chain of communication. Who will be pushing key updates out to the staff? Who will push them out to the customers? Who will have the authority to make emergency decisions, and how will that information be delivered? For many people, uncertainty and confusion can be worse that dealing with the aftermath of the crisis itself, so make sure the plan starts with a solid communication foundation.
Don’t just stop the planning at the front door, either. Part of the business continuity plan should include your greater network — which other businesses in the community can you rely on if things go wrong? What help can you provide to other businesses in the network should they have an emergency? It doesn’t necessarily need to be a formal arrangement, but having an idea about the resources available means you won’t have to scramble when the worst does happen, or, conversely, you will already be ready to jump in and offer aid quickly if someone else experiences trouble.
Once a communication plan and network are in place, the next part of the plan to consider is access. As the current coronavirus pandemic has illustrated, sometimes a crisis doesn’t come in the form of a natural disaster or structural damage, but in the inability to have people safely come to work. In that case, the ability to work from home is critical to ensuring business continuity.
“Even if you do not have structural damage but you do not have power, some of your employees could work from home and will need remote access,” notes Scrima. “That dovetails into making sure you regularly perform data back-ups into a cloud-based solution. No, you may not be able to physically print finished products, but having remote access will allow you to interact with your customer base and continue to process orders.”
In fact, Scrima notes that it was having that part of GSP’s own robust crisis management plan in place that allowed the company to shift gears quickly, pivoting to a new structure easily, with employees able to stay up and running with minimum problems. “We flipped into our business continuity plan as if we had no power and we were able to have employees, whose work could be done remotely, do so with no loss of productivity, no additional planning, no scrambling around to get equipment or figure out connections. It was stress-free and seamless,” she says.
Other items to consider are things such as having generators, how large they should be, how many, and which equipment should — and shouldn’t — be slated for backup power in an emergency. According to Ready.gov, even outside of extraordinary times, as many as 70% of businesses will experience a power outage within the next 12 months for a wide range of reasons. It isn’t necessary, or even cost-effective in many cases, to have the equipment to power the entire business as usual, but the ability to run a few key pieces of equipment, the lights, computers, and a power outlet or two for powering tools needed for repairs will be sufficient to get most PSPs through a few days.
Finally, don’t forget little things, like having flashlights — with batteries, that are tested regularly to ensure they are still working — tarps, and other staples readily available throughout the shop. “You should have both hand-held and headlamp flashlights,” says Scrima. “Coincidentally, that was a tweak to our plan — we only had hand-held flashlights, and realized by having a headlamp flashlight that can be worn frees up both hands. Truly, it’s the little things that seem so obvious that get overlooked.”
Don’t Get Overwhelmed
If the idea of having a detailed business continuity plan that covers every possible eventuality leaves you feeling stressed and frozen from too many variables to consider, remember that it does not have to all be done at once. In fact, it will likely take years to flesh out the entire thing, and even then, a true crisis management plan is always evolving and changing.
“Do not expect that you will come out of the gate with a fully loaded plan,” says Scrima. “There is no way you can plan for every scenario that could happen. Even if you think of everything, you might not be able to implement it all simultaneously. Each year you should allocate funds in your budget to continue to build the plan out. It probably took us three to four years to get everything we believed we needed in place; we run through our checklist annually.”
While some of the necessary plans can be costly — things such as generators, for example — others are fairly inexpensive to implement. Have the team working on the plan create both short-term goals of what can easily be incorporated in the next three to six months, and then longer-term goals that can be implemented each year, so when a crisis does hit, you will have something in place to build from. Crisis management isn’t about having a step-by-step guide for every situation, it is about having a game plan that ensures every person, from the most junior team member to the most important client, are all working together, walking in the same direction.