Businesses must prepare for turbulent times —Prof. Lartey

Business owners and the government at large must all invest thoughtful energies which focus on the preparation required to manage a possible crisis in the Ghanaian and global economies, Professor Samuel Lartey-lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) has said.

Prof. Lartey was speaking to a group of young entrepreneurs, retrenched staff, aspiring business leaders and deportees in Kumasi on the current economic turbulence, financial markets instability, banks’ collapse, and the massive illegal and global migration and deportations being experienced over recent days in Ghana.

He urged companies to take key measures, such as appointing a crisis-management team that will provide overall direction and counsel in the event of turbulence; carry out a SWOT analysis; draw out action plans and identify situations where things are likely to go wrong or develop into crisis.

Other measures, Prof. Lartey suggested, include researching how other organisations have successfully dealt with similar crises; identifying flexible strategies for dealing with such crises; and communicating the strategies to all staff as well as implementing corrective measures to deal with any problems which may arise.

He further advised that businesses must continuously check the effectiveness of their plans by testing them out through ‘what if’ scenarios; and also revise the plans where necessary.
Details of his lecture are as follows.

1. Appoint a crisis management team
This team should be made up of people with a range of skills and attributes. The members of the team must have the authority needed to provide overall direction and counsel in the event of a turbulence. The appointment of a team-leader is crucial: the one may not necessarily have an abundance of technical skills, but must be able to command respect and galvanise people into action.

2. Analyse the current position
Carry out a SWOT analysis. By checking where you are now, possible threats can be identified (loss of jobs, loss of funds, fire, flood, terrorism, accident). Consider how these risks can be reduced (retraining, investment education, install alarm or detection systems, check security and storage systems, attitude change) and implement the necessary changes.
Ensure that your policies and procedures can stand up to public examination, and demonstrate your organisation’s credibility by carrying out responsible actions and through a third-party audit against appropriate standards or Codes of Practice.

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3. Brainstorm what could go wrong
The crisis management team is responsible for drawing-up your action plan. Identify situations which could develop, and could constitute a crisis. Identify those who may be affected (both within the organisation and externally), and how communication about a crisis would be handled (by whom and to which individuals, organisations or media). Although the crisis team will aim to anticipate all possible crisis situations, it is still essential to prepare for the unexpected.

4. Research others’ experiences
Find out what you can about the effects of crises on other organisations, so you can learn from them. This can be achieved through general reading, attending crisis/disaster planning seminars and through networking.

5. Identify strategies for dealing with the situations
For each scenario, draw up a plan of action for containing and dealing with the crisis – remember, the plan must be flexible to cope with the unexpected. Identify those organisations (including police, fire brigade etc.) which may be jointly responsible for managing the situation, and obtain names and contact details of those you wish to communicate with (including those in the media).

Finally, write down the plans; so that if a situation develops, the ways to handle it are immediately available. Consider where the plan should be stored – it must be accessible, but also protected from risk.

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6. Communicate and implement the plan
Make sure all staff are aware of what to do in a crisis – including who to contact, how and when. Implement corrective measures where necessary to deal with problems identified during the brainstorming process – this may help prevent a crisis situation arising. From the list of key organisations and people, build on working relationships to ensure that in a time of crisis these individuals work for you rather than against you.

7. Check the plan’s progress
Where the plan makes interim recommendations for action, ensure that they are being acted upon. Check that changes identified as necessary have been made, and review the plan in the light of any further findings.

8. Test the plan through “what if” scenarios
It is essential to test your plans to ensure they work, and that key personnel are familiar with them. A role-play situation can be developed in-house, but it should be designed by as few personnel as possible to ensure its secrecy (and therefore realism). Observers should monitor the situation (either engage external consultants, or use members of management who would not have a main role in a crisis) in order to provide feedback.

9. Revise the plan regularly – in light of the test results or because of changing circumstances
Following any exercise, a debriefing session should be carried out by the observers with analysis from the crisis team themselves. Concentrate on any failure of the plan, or any changes made to the plan when it was in practice. Implement all necessary changes to the written plan, and set the date for your next test.

Prof. Lartey concluded by saying that in crisis management leaders must not be complacent. They must not assume that they have covered all angles, and they must not think it only happens to others.

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