Preparing for the unknown: Steps you can take now to help your company, your people and your brand

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This year may still give us a few more surprises. Election-related tension is still recognizable in our country, and we’ve seen some sporadic protests. In the coming days and weeks, uncertainty may be unsettling, and there are ways to prepare in case the disagreements move beyond mere words. This is about effective risk management: steps you can take now to help preserve and protect the things you value — your people and customers, your assets and your reputation.

Worried about leading in this uncertain situation? Take a deep breath: You’ve got this

Let’s start with some positivity. While 2020 has been a challenging year for so many, you’re now probably better prepared than you think for whatever might come next. All the work you’ve already done is a silver lining to this year’s challenges. The infrastructure built to respond to the COVID-19 crisis can serve double duty in helping companies respond to this situation. You’ve likely already made significant moves to improve the security of your people and your assets. You’ve presumably already taken steps to make your company more resilient. And you already have an organizational “north star”: your corporate values. These will help you prioritize the work ahead.

For many companies, that will mean keeping the focus on three things: doubling down to support your people, protecting your facilities and physical assets, and minding the messaging and its impact on your brand.


Promoting the safety and well-being of your people

Many of your employees and customers may already be under extreme stress after months of the pandemic, financial concerns, highlighted attention to social injustice and a noisy political campaign season. Your actions can help make a real difference to support people who may be fearful.

To make decisions about keeping workers and customers safe, you’ll want real-time, localized intelligence to know where any problem situations are, such as: 

  • Social media listening 

  • Regular interactions with local law enforcement

You’ll also want to stay in touch with your people, meeting them where they are.

  • Test your call trees if you haven’t done so recently.

  • Don’t forget emotional security. After such an unusual year, many employees and customers may feel particularly stressed. Consider how you can provide additional support for those who may need it, even if just to provide tips on how to have challenging conversations and remind everyone to be as patient and empathetic as possible.

Protecting facilities and physical assets 

Your plans will vary by site, but one thing is consistent: They won’t help much if they are outdated. 

  • Review your plans now before you need them and consider how you might test them, just as with a fire drill.

  • Draw on what you’ve learned. Unfortunately, 2020’s social unrest and natural disasters gave many companies a head start on this kind of planning. Be prepared to secure your facilities when facing potential civil unrest, just as you might for extreme weather.

Global supply chains often reduce costs, but they can be fragile. While we don’t usually see this, domestic supply chains may be vulnerable too, particularly in the “last mile.”

  • Consider how you might harden these processes, perhaps by front-loading some procurement.

  • Demand could change in the weeks after the election, just as it spiked in some categories when the pandemic first hit. Companies may want to add restrictions to some products from advertising to weapons, limiting sales of anything that might inflame tensions further.

Expect potential digital trouble and act accordingly. Bad actors at home and abroad may feel emboldened if they think our attention is diverted by unusual events.

  • Ransomware has spiked during the pandemic, and an anxious populace can be particularly susceptible to phishing and other social engineering techniques. Educate your teams to be appropriately skeptical: Even messages that seem official may not be.

  • Don’t forget threats from within. Stay vigilant in the face of uncertainty, because internal fraudsters may also see disruptive events as an opportunity.

Use this opportunity to review and revise your continuity and resilience planning.

  • In a recent report, we looked at the board’s important role in crisis preparation.

  • Virtually every firm has a plan on paper to address business continuity and recovery. But beyond the first 48 hours, plans are often insufficient.

  • Take the long view. Whatever happens in the coming weeks, this is a good time to consider integrating your business continuity plans, your crisis management discipline and your cyber resilience initiatives. 2020’s serial disruptions show that it helps to think more broadly.

Managing your message

Your brand and your reputation could be affected by how your firm presents itself in the coming weeks. In our current society, whether you take an apolitical stance or choose a side, others will notice. So you’ll want to choose your message carefully, and make sure it is consistent with what you want to be known for.

In a crisis, the biggest threat to your reputation may be inconsistency. What you say, internally and externally, should be consistent and should reflect your values.

  • Consider what governance you’ll need to get accurate information to and from the field, and put it in place now, before you need it.

  • How you tell your story may also be important, so you’ll want to coordinate with your internal and external communications teams to get everyone prepared.

  • You already likely have an approach to help you cope with the current situation in your company’s core principles and values. Consider restating them. This could help employees as they make independent decisions that affect your broader organization. It could help your customers and broader set of stakeholders, too.

  • Managing the message extends to your team, too. If your employees take more vocal stands on social media or get involved in protests, this could also affect your company. You’ll want to communicate with your team frankly about how personal views intersect with the organization’s reputation.


Other steps to consider

Strategy

When faced with uncertainty, as we are in the current situation, scenario planning helps. In the spring, we saw some leading firms prepare for the complicated year ahead by modeling a range of different developments covering consumer behavior, social distancing attitudes and supply chain disruptions, among other things. You may want to consider your own tabletop exercise, anticipating different responses you might take in case the current uncertainty escalates.

Tactics

Your situation is unique. Some firms may use this time to shore up cash positions, boosting liquidity. Others may want to reposition assets. Still others may act quickly to change certain policies. While the analogy is imperfect, think back to January. If you knew then what you know now about 2020, what actions would you have taken to prepare differently?

Looking ahead

Most citizens are deeply invested, literally and figuratively, in our collective success. While discussions could get heated in the coming weeks, what unites us is far bigger than what divides us.  Business leaders will play a particularly important role, representing stability and optimism for the future. We provide jobs, opportunities for growth, an anchor for our communities and more. Many companies have ramped up their own efforts to fight racism and social injustice. These, and other steps we take now to prepare for the coming weeks, can help reinforce continuity, regardless of the outcome. By staying focused on our values and purpose through what is now the post-election season, we can help our companies and our stakeholders. This will help America stay true to its values as well.

Election 2020

What can business leaders expect when projected President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January 2021?

Next year could be the start of a busy legislative period for Democrats trying to secure as much of their 2021 agenda as possible ahead of the 2022 midterms. But first, the new administration faces significant hurdles including pandemic response, one of the most challenging fiscal environments in US history and getting the votes to pass new legislation.

From a potential corporate tax rate increase to improvement in job recovery and healthcare expansion, we break down what this means for your business, why it matters, and what you can do to prepare for the days ahead.

Learn more

Contact us

Kristin Rivera

Kristin Rivera

Partner, Global Forensics Leader, Global Crisis Consulting Leader, PwC US

David Stainback

David Stainback

Partner, US Crisis Consulting Leader, PwC US

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