This article was updated on July 17, 2018.

Crisis management plans are a necessary part of business continuity planning. They ensure organizations can continue operating under unexpected and difficult situations. But it's not enough to just have a plan. Your plan must evolve constantly to be ready for new threats. But how should HR leaders assess crisis management programs to ensure their plans are still effective?

The best way to create effective a crisis management plan is to maintain a continuous cycle of practice, evaluation and improvement.

Crisis Management Plans Must Be Practiced

Ask yourself, "What would the organization do if 'X Crisis' happened today?" If you don't have a good answer, then you and your organization are not doing enough to anticipate and prepare for emergencies.

An emergency, by definition is unexpected. The only way to prepare is to make sure you spend ample time thinking about different scenarios, preparing a list of actions based on how those scenarios typically play out, based on research and data, and then practicing those actions in regularly scheduled simulations.

According to Continuity Central, "routine testing of your response strategies" is one of the most important ways to not only prepare your people and organization for a crisis, but also to identify any gaps in your existing crisis management plans. HR leadership should therefore make it a priority to lead sessions to run through your crisis management scenarios, determine your readiness and then assess the effectiveness of each plan.

Evaluate Plans Against Objectives

Perhaps the most useful and streamlined method for assessing crisis management plans is to evaluate them against stated objectives. According to the Association of Corporate Counsel, there should be four main objectives of a crisis management plan:

  1. Reducing tension during the incident
  2. Demonstrating corporate commitment and expertise
  3. Controlling the flow and accuracy of information
  4. Managing resources effectively

So after your team has run through practice scenarios, it should sit down and review how the process performed against the plan's stated objectives. Identify what worked well and what didn't work to find gaps and develop a game plan to address those issues.

Learn from Software Development Teams

One innovative approach comes from a process that software development teams use at the end of each software release. It's called a retrospective.

A retrospective is a meeting held right after the completion of a software release in which the team discusses the effectiveness of the release. According to Scrum Alliance, the retrospective includes the following three questions for discussion:

  1. What went well during the release?
  2. What went wrong during the release?
  3. What could we do differently to improve?

Everyone on the team participates in a collaborative and constructive atmosphere to share opinions and ideas for improvements. Each retrospective meeting covers these three questions and everyone weighs in.

If a software team releases updates monthly, there are 12 opportunities per year to discuss performance and to come up with ways to improve. The team is continuously improving because lessons learned from a previous release can be applied in the next release cycle, and so on.

Routine testing of crisis management plans is one of the most important ways to prepare an organization for a crisis. A crisis will never occur in a vacuum, so crisis management teams should run retrospective meetings after each plan test to evaluate its effectiveness and work continuously to identify deficiencies to make improvements to the plan.

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