Small Business Trends

6 Steps to Creating Your Crisis Management Action Plan

Published by in Small Business Trends

Is your business prepared for the next crisis? Follow our guide to create an action plan.

header image shows icons depicting a business plan with a caution sign over it.

When it comes to your business, does even just hearing the word “crisis” scare you? If so, you’re not alone. Thinking about worst-case scenarios that could potentially cripple your business tend to bring on anxiety.

However, crisis management experts say there’s one key thing that can make all the difference in successfully managing a crisis: preparation.

With COVID-19’s effect on the current business climate, it’s crucial for small-business leaders to create a crisis management action plan. Below are six steps you can take to create your plan, and how you can integrate technology to keep your teams productive even while handling a crisis.

6 steps to creating a crisis management action plan

1. Choose objectives

In one aspect, managing a crisis is no different from any other project: It’s important to have everyone on the same page about goals. When you choose one particular direction, trade-offs often come with the territory, but it’s important that everyone is aware of the primary objective.

For instance, if you’re a service organization, being the fastest often comes at the sacrifice of quality. No matter how much you want it, you can’t be both.

The best companies know how to accept their weaknesses and play on their strengths. During a crisis, it’s especially important to define what the company’s or team’s goals are for the crisis, specifically. For many organizations, this means prioritizing team member safety or protecting brand reputation during the crisis.

2. Communicate those objectives to your team

Whatever your team decides on, ensure you’re clearly outlining those goals to team members involved in the crisis management process. Again, the more you can prepare and do this ahead of time, the better.

You’ll want to do this with a clear mind when you have time to think about priorities. It’s much harder to do this when stakes are high and a crisis is in the process of unfolding.

3. Designate key contacts

Because crises often develop quickly, it’s crucial that those in decision-making roles are aware they’re part of the crisis team.

Companies often designate a key representative from each of its departments to weigh in on crisis decision-making and to stay apprised of facts as they unfold.

Strive to have eight to ten individuals on deck. Having too many people can be akin to having “too many cooks in the kitchen” and can slow down what needs to be a quick decision-making process. Too few people involved could create shortsightedness or cause a team to fail to see things from an important perspective.

4. Establish roles and responsibilities during a crisis

Once you have key contacts in place, communication is essential. Clearly designate roles and responsibilities ahead of time so there’s no confusion about who’s doing what when a crisis strikes. If your team is distributed or works remotely, it becomes even more important to have clear expectations.

A project management or collaboration tool can help your team quickly establish goals, set responsibilities, and manage deadlines, which is critical during projects where information is changing quickly. You’ll need to efficiently cascade that information for execution.

5. Use an impact-based matrix, not a scenario-based matrix

Many traditional crisis management action plans use scenarios as the basis for crisis planning. But when time is of the essence, it’s important to minimize as much uncertainty as possible. By its definition, a black swan event is unpredictable, so you can’t prepare for every event.

However, Gartner says many scenarios can be clustered into similar outcomes, or impacts. For instance, natural disasters can be as varied as a flood, blizzard, hurricane or tornado, but these situations essentially cause the same outcomes.

Think about the core aspects of your business and what happens if they’re disrupted for any reason: for instance, the people, technology, operations or finance. You can also look into risk management software to help you conduct risk assessments and analysis.

Essential ERM's risk details dashboard

Essential ERM’s risk details dashboard (Source)

6. Conduct a postmortem

Gartner shares that one of the things that sets successful companies apart is being diligent about conducting postmortems after decisions or projects (full content available to Gartner clients). Often, once a crisis is over, everyone wants to take a deep breath, pat themselves on the back, and go back to business as usual. However, rather than immediately getting back into your routine, take a minute to gather your stakeholders and review what worked and what didn’t.

Enterprise companies often have sophisticated processes and document libraries with project postmortems, but this doesn’t have to be complicated. Your team can create a decision journal where you review what happened so you can learn from mistakes and improve on things that worked.

Decision-making is just like any other skill: It improves the more time you spend actively practicing and working on it. Taking time to do this after the adrenaline is out of your system and the dust has settled can be crucial to helping your company successfully navigate the next crisis.

A crisis management action plan can create confidence

By its definition, a crisis is scary and emotions will be running high. However, with advance preparation and a postmortem session after the crisis, your team can be confident you’ll be able to make it through the next crisis.

Having the right project management software in place is essential to effectively handling a crisis. Specifically, project tracking tools can help ensure stakeholders are clear on the goal they’re working toward. For instance, you can make updates to projects in real-time as information changes, and your team can automatically receive notifications, so you’re able to share critical updates faster. Additionally, you can assign specific tasks so each person on your team knows exactly what they’re responsible for.

Remember, crisis situations are also opportunities, and companies that are able to rise to the challenge come out of the crisis stronger and more resilient.

To learn more about business operations during COVID-19, check out our additional articles:

Note: The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.

About the Author

Amanda Kennedy

Amanda Kennedy

Senior Content Writer @ Capterra, sharing insights about how small businesses can better use technology. BA, English, the University of Texas at Austin; currently completing my master’s in information systems at the University of North Texas. You can find me on my mat practicing Power Vinyasa or Bowspring yoga, jogging with my dog Rhombus, or reading a novel.


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