In the information technology profession, many consider crisis management and disaster planning to be client issues. In fact, it isn’t unusual to find IT consultants who specialize in developing disaster recovery plans — predominantly systems-related ones — as an ongoing client service offering.
Few of us, however, plan for crisis to strike in our own practices probably because we don’t want to contemplate the possibility that it can. But crises can take many forms in your IT practice.
Changes in leadership, such as a key member of your firm leaving as a result of death, departure to another firm, or a merger, can place your firm in a difficult situation with limited time to transition critical roles. A crisis of this nature, if not anticipated, can leave your firm unable to maintain its focus and can cause a decline in morale due to uneasiness and uncertainty.
Personnel issues, such as layoffs or other difficult employee departures, if managed improperly, can sometimes lead to legal action and cause frustration or strain on those remaining behind. In addition, client and other external communications must be carefully managed to minimize disruption and concern among your outside stakeholders.
Then there are concerns such as the loss of clients due to service delivery mishaps, legal troubles, scandal or mistakes made by the firm. These crises can result in the loss of potential revenue from that client and can also lead to other client issues as your staff is pulled away from their normal duties to spend time addressing the problem situation.
Because a crisis, by definition, is an unpredictable, unexpected, potentially damaging event, it is difficult to plan “perfectly” for it. But not all crises are necessarily “bad.”
Instead, underneath the unseemly aspects of each crisis situation, there lurks an opportunity. I believe that all crises are manageable, and that the manner in which you manage your next crisis situation will impact whether the outcome of that crisis is positive or negative.
Firms that create crisis recovery plans are able to prepare ahead for the “worst” and properly manage their crisis when the event occurs. I’ve seen firms that have these plans in place literally transform what would be a disaster into a genuine opportunity.
Building a disaster plan to properly manage potential crises in your IT practice will involve six critical factors:
Leadership — where you’ll clearly define your role as a leader in the crisis, determining whether to lead the crisis resolution effort or support your specifically chosen staff in the process.
Culture — where the level to which you currently foster openness, loyalty and core values in your practice will become even more important when crisis strikes, because emotion, tension and stress levels will inevitably
Teamwork — which will cause you to determine, ahead of time, who your allies are and how you would work together to resolve the crisis, since the resolution is often larger than one person can handle.
Planning — where you will develop plans for before, during and after a crisis, and then regularly test them, revise them when necessary and learn from actual events that you experience around you.
Communication — another activity you’ll undertake before, during and after a crisis — maintaining communications throughout the process both internally and externally.
Action — which you’ll want to be decisive, consistent and thorough.
By acknowledging that your practice or company may encounter a crisis in the future, you can begin to develop a plan to powerfully manage any difficult times ahead. In another article, I will map a step-by-step approach to developing your own crisis plan, and follow up with an article that will offer insights into how to handle a crisis once it occurs.
And, even if you’re unable to stomach applying these ideas to your own firm, the concepts will translate beautifully to any disaster recovery or crisis planning you may be doing for clients — so stay tuned for the next phase in this important dialogue.
Jennifer Wilson is co-founder and owner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC (www.convergencecoaching.com), a leadership and marketing consulting firm that specializes in helping CPA and IT firms achieve success.
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