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Managing Outcomes
February 16, 2020, Vol 11, No. 4
Managing Outcomes is published by Tony Jaques, Director of Issue Outcomes Pty Ltd, for people who work in issue and crisis management
Coronavirus outbreak exposes lack of crisis preparedness

As the novel coronavirus spreads across the world, we are seeing more and more governments and businesses scrambling to respond to the crisis.

Crises, by definition, are messy and don’t offer quick or easy solutions – that’s what makes them a crisis. But it's increasingly obvious that many of the organisations impacted by coronavirus are not responding with a well-prepared plan but are making it up on the fly.

Sadly, that’s no surprise. The latest research by CS&A International and PR News shows that almost 40% of organisations lack a crisis management plan, and of those which said they had a plan, almost half admitted it was not up to date.

Moreover, almost 60% of the middle and senior managers surveyed said they never conducted a crisis exercise, or were “not sure” how often the company held an exercise.

This lack of preparedness is nothing new and shows no appreciable sign of improving. Back in 2016 a major study by Deloitte looking at the attitudes of non-executive Directors across the world found 73% of Directors named reputation as the single greater crisis vulnerability, yet only 39% had a plan for it.

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A follow-up study by Deloitte in 2018 found 90% of respondents were confident of their organisation's ability to deal with a corporate scandal, yet only 17% had actually tested that assumption through a simulation.

Most worrying of all are the “reasons” why crisis preparedness is at such a dangerously low level. A PR News/Crisp survey of public relations professionals in mid-2019 found more than 20% said their CEO was “not really” or “not at all” willing to invest in strong crisis preparation.

And the new report by CS&A found that almost 50% said the greatest challenges in their organisation when it came to crisis preparedness were “We don’t have enough resources” or “We don’t have adequate management support.”

Those so-called reasons must ring pretty hollow now for the airlines, universities, cruise companies, travel agencies, carmakers and other organisations facing a massive direct impact from the coronavirus, which have suddenly had to find the supposedly scarce resources and management support. 

As Dirk Lenaerts of CS&A concluded: “Many organisations struggle with reacting quickly and getting organised when crisis strike." Even with a plan, he added, “if people don’t know it and don’t practice it, they will tackle each crisis by improvisation.”  
The Institute for Crisis Management calculates that about two thirds of all organisational crises are not sudden events at all but are “smouldering crises” which occur after warning signs which should have been recognised. The SARS scare in 2003 and MERS in 2012, as well as Swine Flu 2009 and Bird Flu 2013, should have been red flags the size of Tasmania in terms of crisis risk to organisations which would be vulnerable to cross-border disease outbreaks.

However, effective crisis prevention and crisis preparedness demands visible management commitment and leadership from the top. If the CEO doesn’t think it’s important, then why would anyone else?  

The challenge is clear. The risk of failure is undeniable, as the coronavirus has shown. The only question is, are you properly crisis prepared? And if not, why not?

Need some help to get crisis prepared or to review your existing plan? Contact Tony Jaques

A Parting Thought

The real challenge is not just to recognize crises, but to recognize them in a timely fashion and with a will to address the issues they represent.
John Darling, Hannu Seristö and Mika Gabrielsson

Tony Jaques PhD
Director, Issue Outcomes P/L Mob: 0411 276 527
Email: Website:
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