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Disaster Planning: Lessons Learned

Doug Mueller

November 19, 2020

If the pandemic has taught business owners anything, it’s that anything can happen. Who’d have thought that our country, our economy, and our businesses would be dealing with a scary global health crisis for the better part of a year? Who’d have predicted that all the brainstorming and second-guessing that went into carefully crafted disaster plans wouldn’t remotely accommodate what companies have been facing over the past months?

However, business owners have learned important lessons for preparing for the unexpected. Here are five key takeaways to leverage with your team:

Practice

Theoretical plans work on paper. It’s smart to implement in a working setting to see how they perform in the real world. As you update plans for the coming year, set aside time for a trial run. This will eliminate issues with technology, people, weather, vendors, and other variables that may affect your plan. Include select suppliers and customers so you can accommodate their connections, schedules, and must-haves.

Improvise

One of the most powerful lessons of the pandemic is that despite practice, the best-laid plans don’t always work. Improvisation is essential. Nimble companies adjust on the fly. During the pandemic, agile organizations regrouped and moved forward. On the contrary, inflexible companies were unable to adjust to the new pandemic paradigm, resulting in frustration and lost opportunities.

What have been the sticky parts of your pandemic performance? Have your teams been able to adjust? Are individuals empowered to keep work moving as efficiently as possible? How can you encourage out-of-the-box thinking and improvisation?

Communication

For much of 2020, things changed quickly, and it was hard to keep up. Initially, there were seemingly never-ending video conference meetings to discuss workflow and processes, resulting in virtual meeting fatigue. At that point, communication stalled, and it was harder to find time to brainstorm and try new ideas.

Moving forward, it’s imperative to include more casual gatherings to exchange ideas. Even a virtual break room or lunch-and-learns are helpful to foster interaction. Much is lost when there’s no opportunity to simply catch up and have a friendly conversation.

Evaluate

Today’s robust data analytics has taught us an “experiment, test, evaluate, and change” attitude keeps work fresh. Constant evaluation—without blame, shame, or judgment—is the key to flexibility. Keep what’s working and let go of what’s not.

Quick surveys, or even informal check-ins with customers, are a good way to gather information. Showing concern and curiosity about your performance keeps customers engaged and opens the door to more feedback.

Reevaluate, Later

Time provides perspective. After a crisis, gather the team for a discussion of what to do better next time. It’s likely that new solutions and different approaches—maybe even a complete reorganization—will arise. There’s no doubt your company will leave every challenge with new ideas for next steps.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all planning for disasters, whether a “traditional” one like a flood or fire, or a novel one like coronavirus. Whether your path has been smooth or difficult, celebrate what you did right and address what you can do better next time. Disaster plans must always be updated because there is always room for improvement.

Let’s review your successes and failures together, and look towards next steps. Contact your Mueller Prost advisor for a one-on-one exploration.

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