“OH NO! Now what?” is not something you want to say if you can help it, trust me. A volcano erupting across the globe disrupts your supply chain; a valued team member becomes chronically ill and you wish you had a succession plan; a customer had a less-than-stellar experience and has created a community awareness nightmare which has gone viral through the social networks. These are just some of the thousands of examples any one of us in the business world can relate to and would like to avoid altogether or at least manage well should they happen.

Some might call it crisis management planning while others will call it business continuity planning, but the key word here is planning. The good news is, in many instances you can avoid new or escalating problems through solid planning. However, the secret to successful crisis management planning comes into identifying the myriad of problems that potentially could arise while finding realistic solutions that your organization can implement, today, tomorrow or years down the road, even after new employees are brought onto your team.

No company big or small is immune to the need for solid crisis planning. The easiest way to start is to have each company department head brainstorm with their key team members on various worst-case scenarios and come up with a path to success for each scenario. As an example, the IT Department needs to have a backup plan should your mail system get blacklisted or if a virus makes it through your safety measures. Your human resources department needs to be prepared should any lawsuit be filed by a disgruntled employee. Your customer service department needs to identify how to handle a product or service issue that will flood their system such as a recall.

The next step is to poke as many holes into the plans as possible. You might think you have everything buttoned down and that you are ready for whatever crisis could be thrown your way, but there is nothing like reality to throw a wrench into even the most perfect plans. It is better to dig wide and deep while creating the plans, or even reviewing old plans as it will save you thousands of dollars and many hours in the future. To help poke holes, share each department’s plan with other departments which will often quickly and effectively uncover areas that may have been overlooked. It is often the case that when we are too close to something, it is difficult to have an objective opinion or we miss even the obvious.

It is also important to make sure you have your cross-integration strategy in place. How will the different departments be affected and how will they need to coordinate as a team to resolve the issue? For example, a recall will affect your customer service department as well as your sales and marketing department since they will have to overcome the negative image created by the recall. Will new marketing materials need to be created to bolster customer confidence or will you need to train your sales force to manage questions about quality?

And finally, a large part of crisis management plans need to incorporate communicating your message to the outside world. This is where your external teams can help not only in creating the most effective plan possible, but also in ensuring they are ready to jump in should the need arise. External teams include your suppliers, agencies such as your public relations firm and ad agency, as well as any community or government organization if applicable.

The key is to think of the full ripple-effect of a potential situation and to make sure that the good solution crafted within your four walls, once it gets out the doors, brings the result you were hoping for.