Most small business owners understand that all it takes is one thing to go wrong to pose a threat to their company. Whether it affects your organization’s finances, reputation, facilities, the safety of customers and employees or all of those elements at once, any business interruption can make life tough for a small company.
A business interruption can come in various forms, from natural disasters, government shutdowns, supply chain disruptions, accidents and illnesses to other harmful incidents such as workplace violence. You might also face contingent business interruptions. These are issues that arise outside of your business — such as problems with key suppliers, manufacturers or databases — that impact your organization’s operations.
Here’s a look at how to prepare for the interruptions that could put your business at risk.
Assuming the Ready Position
The “ready position” is a term that comes from the sports world. It refers to the way you should posture yourself before the action begins in order to maximize your ability to react to anything your opponent might do. When it comes to facing small business challenges, it’s critical to ensure that you’re as prepared as possible before the disruption starts.
That begins with engaging a risk management expert. We all know that risk planning is important, but it’s hard to find time for it amid competing priorities, especially for resource-strapped small businesses. Risk managers will begin with a collaborative assessment that identifies risks and ranks them by likelihood and business impact. They’ll follow that analysis up by describing preventive measures that could help mitigate losses during and after an interruption. This could include implementing strategies tailored to your specific business and its risks or helping you determine your need for business interruption insurance.
This initial assessment is essential. Without it, you won’t have the knowledge required to address a potential business interruption or decide how much to spend in order to prevent or mitigate it. On top of that, when trouble does strike, the relationships this process builds between your staff and experts outside of your business could prove valuable. A strong risk assessment process engages employees across the organization, and getting their involvement up front will ensure that they’ll take the dollars, time and resources you invest in mitigation strategies seriously.
Obvious risks will rise to the surface early in the process, some of which can be addressed quickly. Leadership can leverage the momentum this creates to make sure the company’s efforts don’t lose employees’ attention and peter out.
Making the Best of a Bad Situation
Even the most thorough risk assessment can’t prevent every possible situation. Sooner or later, almost any organization may face some kind of disruption. While every issue requires different strategies, the following basic principles can help you find the best outcome.
- Convene leaders quickly. Any crisis tends to generate stress. It’s the worst possible time to be making decisions in isolation, and yet the pressure to respond quickly tempts us to do exactly that. Get your best minds together as soon as possible with as much information as you can gather. You should have a defined process in place to ensure that happens, either during operating hours (when most people will be easier to reach) or outside of them.
- Put people first. Have people been harmed by the disruption, or are they still at risk? For any business interruption that potentially affects people, keep those people front and center. Your activity and messaging should begin and end with them until that part of the interruption is under control. Trying to emphasize other messages at this time could damage your credibility and reputation — perhaps permanently.
- Stop the bleeding. Address any immediate damage and minimize ongoing damage as much as possible. That includes understanding the cause and extent of the interruption as well as doing any work required to implement immediate solutions.
- Overcommunicate. Don’t leave gaps and silences during your interruption. Instead, assess your channels and ask yourself how you will get information to your critical audiences if, for example, your website or phone lines are down. In a social media world, open questions become rumors — and rumors quickly develop into problems on their own. If you don’t know the answer to an important question, explain that you’re working on it and promise to update them at regular, predictable intervals.
- Restore your reputation. When the interruption is resolved, debrief constructively. Restore any reputational damage you might have incurred with your stakeholders, which can include suppliers, vendors, customers, employees, watchdog groups, the media and the general public, depending on the kind of interruption. For employees in particular, that means pointing them to resources like physical therapy to stress counseling that are designed to help them manage any negative consequences.
In the midst of a crisis, available options tend to shrink as time pressures and stress combine to turn making good decisions and implementing them effectively into its own minefield. The best way to protect your employees and your business is to prepare in advance.
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