Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Crisis Preparedness is a Business Imperative

The principal difference between most associations and most "normal" businesses is the organizational imperative: make a profit for most "normal businesses" versus advance the interests of the industry/profession for most associations. But, at their hearts, the management of associations and the management of "normal businesses" are virtually the same. They are businesses. And every business needs to have a plan for crisis management.

Some executives scoff at the idea that they, personally, should be involved in planning for crises..."I have people whose responsibility it is to do that for me," they say. I say, nonsense! If the buck stops with you, you had better understand the nature of potential crises and how your organization would respond. Maybe a member of your staff is given operational responsibility for responding, but the chief executive had better know that a plan exists, that it has been tested, and that it is logical, meaningful, and sufficient.

Crises can take literally hundreds of forms, including:
  • Weather-related damage/destruction
  • Theft of materials or equipment
  • Sabotage of business relationships
  • Unwelcome media coverage
  • Loss of important membership data
  • Hacking into organizational websites
  • Compromise of member personal/financial data
  • Allegations of sexual misconduct by Board or staff
  • Embezzlement of association funds
  • Death, injury, incapacitation of key volunteer or staff
  • Workplace violence, either in association office or in members' environments
  • Public revelations of criminal wrongdoings by volunteers or staff
  • Natural disaster impacting meetings or other association operations
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Destruction of physical property by fire

Obviously, the list could go on for pages.

Like every other business, associations must be prepared to respond when crises occur. That is not to say that a crisis response plan must anticipate every potential crisis, but a plan should be malleable enough to provide a roadmap to association staff and volunteers when a crisis does occur.

A crisis response plan should address:

  • Who should be notified
  • Who will be in charge
  • Alternates in the event primary contacts are inaccessible
  • Ways to get in touch with all appropriate people to be notified
  • How to reach the authorities and which authorities should be contacted
  • How to sustain business operations, if relevant
  • How to establish alternative operations centers, if appropriate
  • Locations of backup data
  • Alternate means of communications in the event of power or infrastructure outage
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Just consider what you would do if you walked into your office on a Monday morning to discover that a fire has destroyed your office...your network server is gone, all local computers have melted, your telephone system will not work, all your paper files have burned, and to make matters worse, your pyschological counseling association client has a local meeting scheduled for noon that day. What do you do? How do you recover? What if all this happened after another catastrophe the previous Friday, when the association's chief elected volunteer leader was arrested for groping a client?

If you're an association executive who faced such a dreadfully unfortunate scenario, you would be expected to have a plan to recover quickly. Not create a place. Have a plan.

If you're an association volunteer or elected leader, it would behoove you to ask your chief paid staff executive whether such a plan exists. If not, your CEO should be directed to produce one, quickly.

Successful Associations Require Staff Intensity

That's right, successful associations require intensity. There must be intensity in the underlying purpose of the association and in its mission and vision and objectives. There must be intensity in its volunteer leadership. And, most important to my message today, there must be intensity in its staff.

One of the things I've felt passionate about during my career in association management is that staff members must develop an intensity, a firey passion, about the business or profession of the associations with which they work. It's simply not enough to do the work. The work must be done with feeling. It has to matter. When that happens, things begin to happen. Possibilities that were never even considered begin to emerge. Volunteers who had a hard time finding the spare moments to devote to the association start to make time for the association.

Intensity in association staff (and, of course, that includes association management company staff) is an important component of the "fire in the belly" that causes great things to happen. It's not sufficient, but it is necessary. Great things also require committed volunteer leaders and other volunteers who are willing to work...without that, staff intensity will ultimately wither. But when staff intensity is combined with volunteer out!

I'm the first to admit that, for the most part, associations are not institutions that form the bedrock of society, so we mustn't take ourselves too seriously. But we must all understand that our little parts of the world do matter, and that by focusing our intensity on things that make our little parts of the world better, we're making an important difference!

I'll close this first post in our new blog with some comments from some very wise people:

"Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein