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Research and Briefings

Pandemic. Civil Unrest. Consumer Activism. Natural Disasters.

Webcast Replay: Crisis Management: Preparing for the Unpredictable


The ongoing COVID-19 crisis is characterized by profound and persistent uncertainty. During the 10th episode in Marsh’s ongoing series about the pandemic, Daniel Diermeier, a leading crisis management expert and Vanderbilt University’s incoming chancellor, noted that organizations need to address widespread fear while maintaining trust.

This doesn’t mean that organizations will necessarily have a solution. Instead, Diermeier said, organizations should engage in communications that foster trust through:

  • Transparency: Senior leaders need to understand and address questions, including acknowledging when they don’t have an answer or are unable to disclose information.
  • Expertise: Since dealing with a public health emergency is not typically a core competency for many organizations outside the health care sector, businesses might need to consider bringing in third-party specialists.
  • Commitment: In the absence of a solution, senior leaders must have processes in place to demonstrate what they’re doing in a personal way. Video messages and virtual town halls can be especially useful.
  • Empathy: While often overlooked by senior leaders, Diermeier stressed the importance of connecting with the pain being felt by both customers and employees.

Crises shift the way we respond, Diermeier noted, with companies now expected to act with competence and care and become helpers within their community. And while businesses’ ability to reduce fear is limited, corporate leaders can ensure their people are empowered to contribute to society. “This is an opportunity for your people to shine,” he said.

But in order to effectively respond to a crisis, organizations need to have a robust crisis management process in place, stressed Renata Elias, a vice president within Marsh Risk Consulting’s Strategic Risk Practice. “A crisis, by definition, isn’t business as usual.”

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for companies to be ready for any crisis. “It doesn’t matter the size of your company, or your industry, a crisis can fall on your lap at any time,” Elias said.

Organizations will be remembered by the way they respond to a crisis, underlining the importance of being proactive. And having the right process in place allows senior leaders to be informed of a crisis in a timely manner so that they can respond strategically.

As senior leaders look back at the way their organizations responded to the pandemic, they should identify and fill any capabilities gaps and make sure they have clearly defined roles with no silos within the organization, Elias said. Diermeier also emphasized the need for after-action reviews. “You learn from successes and from failures,” he noted, though senior leaders should avoid blaming individuals since that is not conducive to a learning environment.

A portion of the webcast was dedicated to audience Q&A. Dr. Lorna Friedman, Global Health Leader within Mercer’s Multinational Client Group, said that given the risk of a second surge in infections, employers would be wise to keep their pandemic plans fresh and readily available.

Greg Rodway, a senior vice president within Marsh Risk Consulting’s Workforce Strategies Practice, said companies should assess the potential risks in employees' remote working environments, especially ergonomic hazards. Some companies, he noted, are conducting virtual training to help their people set up a safe environment while others are conducting virtual assessments.