A Framework for Crisis Action

In times of crisis, having a plan that’s articulated through clearly communicated, achievable action items will help you move past the storm.

In times of crisis, there’s a lot of scrambling, even for well-prepared organizations. When a real crisis hits — not an “event” or an “incident” — you haven’t seen everything. (I’ve written about the lack of a magic eight ball in the past.) And right now, we’re seeing a lot of green-field “Oh s**t!” moments with COVID-19 that simply are not in even the best crisis or continuity plans. If your playbook planned for the possibility of half the workforce being out sick over a period of eight to ten weeks, you have superpower prognostication skills.

There’s no lecture here or grade on how prepared you are or aren’t for a major crisis. Last I checked, the time machine necessary to set us up for a perfect plan of attack was broken. (Paging Doctor Who.) But what is useful is a framework for action. Something simple that gets everyone aligned on a very precise, results-driven model for operation. One that positions you to work quickly in parallel across departments to extinguish fires and promotes critical strategy and “look-ahead” planning that reduces other fires over time.

Enter the EO — short for “End of ____.” Admittedly, it’s not the flashiest acronym, but hear me out.

A Plan in Five Parts: At the beginning of each day, your swat crisis team — consisting of one representative from every core business area who must be empowered to make decisions and act — meets to look at a virtual white board with critical crisis action items divided into five columns. This can be a simple Google Slides document or any number of more advanced collaboration tools. Here are the five columns with guide rails and context for each:

  • End of Day - Immediate fires or needs. These are smaller issues that you can resolve today or the final steps to completing a longer-term crisis project that requires discussion on deployment or how to get it past any remaining obstacles. Very often, these are situations that pop up overnight.
  • End of Week - Slower-burning fires, events or actions that simply require time to solve. For example, this could include ordering extra laptops to have on hand for remote workers (stuff is going to break); finding a second conference line provider; confirming and communicating all your sick, leave and other HR policies to employees; creating resource centers for customers to come to a single location for updates; etc.
  • End of Month - Long-range planning and action items. This could be securing credit against assets for cash flow, an organization plan for a large percentage of staff absences, or other challenges that may have an impact in the coming weeks.
  • Tomorrow’s Message - What you’re going to communicate tomorrow to your employees, partners, customers and other stakeholders. You don’t need to communicate every day, but ask yourself, “Should we communicate tomorrow? Why? And what?”
  • Parking Lot - Issues you have to watch, but don’t rise to the level of immediate action. Putting such topics in this column will prevent them from coming up for debate meeting after meeting — which can take up valuable time. These items may illustrate a pattern or may be one or two things that deserve to be put into drive.

It’s also important that each discussion item has one team owner in charge of execution/driving next steps and one person to assist and give it an extra round of smarts. Update your living document every day and take a picture of it so you can refer to it later

What I like best about the EO framework is that it reflects the reality of crisis planning. It values the importance of dousing immediate fires and looking ahead to prevent other fires from growing and spreading. This model also just provides a practical meeting structure and gets everyone focused.

Check out my discussion with John Moran on this topic on the Look Left @ Marketing Podcast.

crisis communication
crisis planning

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