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Leveraging technology in times of crisis

Technology is critical during a crisis like COVID-19 to enable secure communications, remote access to data, virtual meetings and support business continuity.

type
Article
author
By Diligent
date
25 Jun 2020
bank of computer servers

Author: Andrew Carrick
Vice-president of customer success at Diligent


From cyber security breaches to natural disasters to worldwide pandemics, the nature of a crisis is vast and unpredictable. Board members and management teams are responsible for developing decisive yet flexible response plans that can accommodate a wide variety of scenarios.

When crisis response plans are triggered, cascading actions are set into motion across the business. Executives must trust the plans they put in place. Board members must stand ready to support business continuity. In the end, the impact of a crisis is rarely determined by the crisis itself, but rather the quality of the organisation’s response.

Technology is a critical enabler during times of uncertainty. Crisis response teams must have secure channels of communication. Data must be accessible. Sensitive documents must remain protected. Virtual meeting technology must keep teams connected.

In the simplest terms, company leaders must have the right information at their fingertips to make the right decisions. This article explores two primary components of crisis response – preparedness and agility – and the technology structures that support them.  

For board members

  • Activate your experience. Boards possess unique sets of experiences and lessons learned that they can draw on in times of crisis. Directors should stand ready to galvanise their network of contacts and resources in response to the needs of management.
  • Be available. Make it clear that the board is on call – ready and willing to engage. Support management in carrying out the crisis plan. Think twice about probing into areas that don’t support the task at hand – ask whether an issue warrants distracting executives from addressing crisis priorities, or whether those issues could wait for another day?
  • Stay focused on the long term. As management attends to day-to-day crisis response, how can board members ensure a stronger organisation emerges on the other side? From supply chains to employee relations, organisations can’t miss the opportunity to become more flexible, sustainable, and resilient.

For management

  • Communicate early, often, and with transparency. Even if you don’t have all the answers, the importance of communication is elevated during crisis times. Consider each stakeholder group (employees, shareholders, investors, suppliers, exchanges, government, etc) over both a shortand long-term horizon. How are their fears and uncertainties shifting and how must your message evolve in the weeks ahead? Connect and engage often with purpose and humility.
  • Be decisive, yet flexible. Identify the areas that need attention and allocate resources accordingly, but have plans for pivoting quickly, as needed. The crisis response team should include diverse members who gather the insights required for better decisionmaking.
  • Delegate authority. A CEO cannot lead alone during times of crisis. Empower leaders across the company to step up and support the executive team with consistent actions and messages. Open lines of communication are critical to ensure alignment.

Preparation and response

Organisations don’t always have the luxury of advanced preparation. Even when they can draw on existing crisis plans, boards and management teams must remain nimble, focused, connected – and uncompromising on safety and security. Here’s what that workflow could look like:

  • Contact response teams using secured channels.
  • Establish process for meetings & information flow.
  • Communicate with all stakeholders.

Crisis response planning is a crucial exercise by the board and management team. Organisations must anticipate a range of crisis scenarios that could negatively impact the business, and they must establish the company’s response strategy spanning stakeholder communication, operational contingencies, and board involvement. Here’s what that process could look like:

  • Anticipate crises and develop response plans.
  • Build a rapid response infrastructure.
  • Monitor systems for red flags.

As the pandemic continues to unfold, the most important priority is keeping the situation on the front burner and leading in a timely, thoughtful, and empathetic fashion. In the words of Betsy Atkins: “How you behave in a crisis is what people will remember.”

 

This article is featured in Boardroom April May 2020 issue