Business, Interrupted: Our New Crisis-Ready Culture


For decades, many organizations approached business continuity as an annual event. One where disaster response and continuity plans were hammered out, approved, and tucked away, just in case a disruption occurred, waiting until the next year to rinse and repeat.

But unfortunately, that’s no longer our reality. Resilient organizations today can no longer operate from a position of planning with an “if” something happens to us perspective. As we’ve seen a range of disruptions—types, length, and complexity—since the pandemic began in 2020, we must shift focus to planning for the “when.”

Yet, true resilience is more than ensuring you have plans in place. It’s about ensuring those plans work as designed, gaps are identified and remediated, and that you’re prepared to respond, even for the unknowns or less predictable events that affect business continuity.

So, what does it take to build a crisis-ready culture in this era of “when”? That’s what we chatted about with Melissa Agnes, Founder and CEO of the Crisis Ready Institute, in episode 11 of Castellan’s podcast, “Business, Interrupted.”

The Move to When

Modern business continuity is no longer just about having well-crafted response strategy and plans. Resilient organization’s also need a keen understanding of which plans should be activated and when, overcoming common obstacle that prevent many organizations from being crisis ready.

Traditionally, some organizations have approached continuity planning by looking at it from an issue-based perspective instead of as a potential crisis. Often, these “issues” are overlooked as having a sweeping effect on an entire organization, where they were often viewed as annoyances or inconveniences, and routinely considered an IT-only issue.

But the reality is, for many organizations today, a disruption can quickly turn into a crisis, one that requires all hands on deck for response. If a disruption can stop business as usual, it may very well be a crisis, and that demands effective crisis response.

Likewise, true operational resilience can no longer be looked at from a “that’s not my job,” approach.

That’s not to say some events are out of scope for “crisis” response, but it’s important to understand those parameters with clear communication throughout your organization long before an event occurs.

Being crisis ready, from an organizational perspective, should be part of its cultural identity.

It is understanding all of the different dynamics at play in a crisis,” Agnes said. “So if you’re crisis-ready from a cultural standpoint, it means that you have equipped, you’ve trained, you’ve empowered your entire organization, every single member of every single department and team, up down laterally with the right mindset, the skills, and the capabilities to respond to risk in a way where you’re deescalating it as quickly as possible.”

Think of it as a way to get through it with the least amount of material impact as possible. At Castellan, we often say this is about adopting a bend-not-break approach.

“And with crisis-ready, we go a step further than that,” Agnes explained. It’s about understanding that when you emerge from any type of negative event, your organization should do so with increased trust and credibility.

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The Response Responsibility

It seems a bit simplistic to say effective crisis response is everyone’s responsibility, but what does that look like from an organization’s culture perspective? Is “everyone” actually accountable? When we take this approach, one where everyone owns the endeavor, does anyone actually own it and step up to the plate?

Effective response is everybody’s responsibility, but it does need to be led top down.

When I’m looking at accountability, I’m saying in a worst case scenario, if you don’t manage the crisis properly, who’s going to be held accountable potentially from a regulatory standpoint? From a legal standpoint?” Agnes asked.

The answer here, again, is about building that organizational culture through buy-in. It might start with a program or project manager, who gets executive support and key-stakeholder buy-in, but it must also move downward and outward throughout the organization, drawing on the tone-from-the-middle, all the way to the people responsible for critical tasks as part of their routine expectations.

Crisis Preparation

When we talk about building a crisis-ready culture, mindset is a fundamental component, Agnes explained. The way a leader sees a crisis in many regards will affect the actions taken. Those actions are then directly linked to the event impact and results.

“So, understanding what the right mindset is, how to choose the right lens, how to empower and reward for the right lens culturally throughout the organization, on a day-to-day, that is a very fundamental and very powerful component in and of itself,” she said.

Ultimately, it’s about understanding that a crisis for one isn’t necessarily a crisis for all.

For example, during the early days of COVID, many organizations viewed it as a crisis, but for some companies, such as those that offered web-based conferencing services, it was a brand opportunity, one that unexpectedly fueled product usage and brand awareness.

It’s about knowing what a crisis is for your organization and then defining or identifying the thresholds of impact. Understanding this threshold can help guide response, so all of your players have an understanding of what makes an event a crisis compared to an issue that requires a different type of approach.

Another important component of crisis preparation when you’re building a crisis-ready organizational culture includes stakeholder mapping.

“Strong business is built on successful relationships,” Agnes said. “Crisis management is all about those relationships. Crisis management is about doing right by the people you serve when you’re put to the test when it’s most important.”

Again, it’s about coming out of a negative incident with increased trust and credibility. It’s about proving who you are through your actions and your community.

“In order to do that, you need to truly understand who your different stakeholder groups are and what their connection, their relationship, is with the brand and what they expect,” she said.

Conducting a stakeholder mapping exercise enables your organization to go into different scenarios that you’ve identified through your crisis threshold to get a better understanding of what works, as well as any anticipated issues that could be addressed before a real event.

Getting Started on Your Crisis-Ready Journey

While many organizations may agree there are great benefits for adopting a crisis-ready culture, some may struggle to understand what they need to do to set a foundation and build from there.

Getting buy-in and support is like the number one struggle,” Agnes said. “Even for really crisis-ready organizations, continuing to maintain that support can be a struggle.”

For teams that struggle to get executive support, there’s often a bottleneck or level of resistance that can be correlated with five common hindrances—avoidance, ego, fear, ignorance, and politics. Learning to overcome those obstacles can help not only get the buy-in you need from senior leadership, but also keep them engaged and part of that crisis-ready culture you want to build.

“So figure out what the hindrance is, who you’re speaking to, to really resonate with them,” she recommends.

Would you like to hear more of our conversation with Melissa Agnes and take a deeper dive into ideas that can help you build a crisis-ready culture for your organization? Check out the full podcast episode, “Creating a Crisis-Ready Culture with Melissa Agnes,” from Castellan or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

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