Risk professionals across many industries have been forced
to rapidly evaluate the short- and long-term effects of the ongoing coronavirus
pandemic. There has been tremendous pressure to respond quickly while planning
for potential future risks and challenges. This demand for rapid response along
with the need for forecasting future risk and building a plan for resuming
normal operations is enough to strain even the most robust risk management
The sheer scope of disruption caused by the coronavirus is
placing new emphasis on the all-encompassing nature of these kinds of events.
Organizations are quickly realizing that robust risk management planning and
crisis protocols are essential. What’s more, they are recognizing the
importance of planning around communications strategies. Communication with
employees, partners, customers and others is critical to ensuring that all stakeholders
understand the situation and support your risk mitigation efforts.
As organizations have ramped up their communications
strategies around the coronavirus, there are opportunities to build on best
practices and incorporate key tactics into future risk management planning and
crisis response efforts.
The Risk of Saying Nothing
“Transparency is job one in a crisis,” writes
Harvard professor and management and leadership expert Amy Edmonson. By now, virtually
all companies have shared some kind of statement or update on the coronavirus,
from the world’s largest corporations to the smallest family-run businesses. Customers
and stakeholders expect an update from your organization on how the coronavirus
has impacted your business and what steps you are taking to address it.
Organizations that offer no response or a lackluster update
in the face of this crisis risk a few negative outcomes. Customers and clients
may assume you are not taking the necessary response steps specific to your
business. Worse, they may assume that you have something to hide.
At this point in the evolving crisis, a response strategy is
an essential component of any overarching risk management plan. Here are a few
key tactics to improve your risk management response and communications amid
the current crisis that can be utilized in future risk management plans and
1. Make Your Task Force Permanent
Most organizations have assigned an internal team to monitor
and manage COVID-19 developments and determine the necessary responses and
actions. Risk managers undoubtedly play a critical role on many of these teams.
Formalizing this task force and sharing key details with customers and the
public demonstrates your commitment to staying ahead of the crisis and actively
navigating solutions and next steps.
For members of this task force, the coronavirus pandemic has
likely been a crash course in effective communications. Do not let that
hard-earned experience go to waste. Rather than dismantling the task force when
things begin to return to normal, re-establish it as an ongoing crisis response
team. Use the team’s expertise to improve your response to the next crisis.
Consider media training and other communications coaching for key members of
the task force. Remember, this task force must be more than a communications
tactic. The team you put in place to manage this crisis must have the necessary
time and resources to drive the organizational response to COVID-19—and what
2. Refine Your Communication Channels
In addition to regular updates from a dedicated team, most organizations
have collected all COVID-19-related information in a centralized repository.
Any and all updates, policies and resources should be easy to find and access
at this hub. In most cases, it can live on the company website, and all
communication via email, social and other channels should reference and link to
As stakeholders utilize this hub and other communications,
keep a close eye on metrics. Track which updates were the most viewed, when
they were accessed. Take the time to read and respond to comments and customer
sentiment. All of these analytics offer useful insights on what customers,
employees and others prioritize in times of crisis. Knowing how and where they
look for updates from your organization can increase the effectiveness of all
of your crisis communications.
3. Adapt Your Response Plan
Taken as a whole, the coronavirus was almost impossible to
anticipate and effectively plan for. But it was possible to foresee individual
risks and business impacts. Some organizations have created protocols for a
remote workforce, for example, or increased public health protocols in employee
or customer interactions.
With the coronavirus, we expect shifts in the industry or
regulatory landscape daily. But this is not the only crisis that requires
flexibility and adaptability in a risk management plan—frequent changes and
updates are to be expected. Those organizations that are addressing the
situation with their stakeholders and in their own business continuity plans will
be best prepared for any future crises.
Ultimately, the ongoing coronavirus outbreak offers a
powerful case study for every organization to reflect on its risk management
preparation and emergency response procedures. Using this pandemic to better
prepare for future risk events of all kinds is essential.