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

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As we enter into the week of Inauguration, security remains top of mind two weeks after the attack on the US Capitol. For many companies, this means 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, a noisy political campaign season and security concerns in all 50 states. 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 crisis notification and communication processes if you haven’t done so recently.
  • Don’t forget emotional security: After everything we saw in 2020, 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Your plans will vary by site, but one thing is consistent: They won’t help much if they are outdated.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 coming weeks if we see heightened unrest, 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 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. Your stakeholders - your people, your clients, the public - are watching to see if you take a stand, and if you do, what you say. Whether you weigh in, and if so, what words you use, will need to be managed carefully and aligned with your purpose and your values.

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 purpose and 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 will also be important, so you’ll want to coordinate with your public policy/government affairs, human capital, diversity, and internal and external communications teams to get everyone prepared.
  • You already likely have an approach and framework 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. Last 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 a year ago. If you knew then what you know now about 2020, what actions would you have taken to prepare differently?

Looking ahead

Business leaders more than ever will play a particularly important role, representing stability and optimism for the future. We provide jobs, opportunities for growth, and an anchor for our communities. We also need to advocate for stability in government, bring people together in an incredibly divisive environment, and support our elected officials because our businesses can’t thrive without a strong democracy - and when our businesses don't grow we are robbing our communities of opportunities. By staying focused on our values and purpose as we return to reinforcing our democracy and reinvigorating our economy, we can help our people, our companies and our stakeholders. This will help America stay true to its values and ultimately, to emerge stronger.

Policy outlook with a Biden administration

As Joe Biden enters the White House, the 46th US president, what can business leaders expect? 

2021 could be the start of a busy legislative period for Democrats trying to secure as much of their 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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