How can your organisation prepare and respond to a crisis?

Sometimes businesses evolve due to desire – to diversify, to improve or to innovatein search of success or greater levels of it – other times through necessity – when the forces of consumption or competition, supply or demand make change essential, to prosper or survive.  The velocity of technological change society is experiencing has already deemed foresight and flexibility core capabilities for the modern organisation, who need to be willing and able to apply both in preparing for what they suspect will be next.

But what about their response when caught unsuspecting and unawares by thespeed, scale or severity of a challenge?  Are they ready or could they never have been, not enough anyway?

office meeting

It’s all very well applying your own tactics and timelines to challenges and opportunities that have been foreseen and forecast, but those that are unexpected, unlikely and even unprecedented are a different beast.  Although crisis planning and management are familiar to many companies and industries, rarely if ever before have they been tested so comprehensively as by COVID-19.  Proverbial hands have been forced with regards to pivoting, transitioning, down-scaling and, in some instances, closing.  This definitely isn’t the crisis we were looking (or prepared) for.

We talked challenge readiness and response with Neil Perry AM of Australian dining and hospitality powerhouse Rockpool Dining Group, Qantas and much more, to learn which leadership and team skills have proved most valuable through his recent experiences and may be relevant to how other businesses address crises of their own.

Cross-functional adaptability and relationship management define the success of a crisis response

“A great degree of skill and judgement was needed with regard to management of cashflow and balancing of solvency, both in terms of speed of response and consideration of impact. We were also single-minded in our efforts to keep staff informed of and included in our decision making, via consistent contact and ongoing communication focused upon their emotional and financial situations.

Despite being forced to adopt an unusually defensive role, we used the same agility that has helped us build a successful business in a fast-moving service based sector to prioritise and address key challenges such as negotiating with landlords and suppliers as creatively and rapidly as possible.”

Strong leadership and effective communication is crucial in fast-moving situations, internally and externally

“We reaffirmed our longstanding policy of wellness in kitchens and restaurants – if staff had any symptoms then it would be an absolute no go to come to work.  It’s always been important in hospitality to protect the well-being of workers and as a result customers, but I think this will be something we see far more consistently across the board in future, regardless of industry.

To help us and our customers move on from COVID-19, we’ll need to be strict and transparent with the policies and procedures that are imperative to wrap around the guest. To ensure they feel confident about coming back to both our establishments and restaurants in general there has to be targeted information, communication and consultation, not only around what clientele can see but also what they can’t – the behind the scenes of our places, people and produce.

Of course, we have also had to make sure our managers take on board the seriousness of the hygiene and movement plans and procedures so that they can engage our staff and customers with them effectively. I also see part of our role as leading the charge in ingraining these measures within our industry by avoiding complacency and taking positive action across all parts of our organisation.”

There are opportunities to be siezed within every challenge if you can get creative

“I believe that out of every moment of adversity comes a moment of opportunity, and this was what gave birth to our Hope Delivery program, a quality food delivery service offering free meals to the visa-holder and student communities which are so integral to the hospitality sector.  We’re so in-tune with our casual and visa staff that we quickly recognised there was a short fall in the system for those individuals, with no safety net from a Government perspective.

We identified three pillars we had access to that could combine to help those workers; (1) a fully audited, established charitable organisation, (2) a talented but restricted workforce eager to make a difference, and (3) the infrastructure and kitchens for production. It made perfect sense to turn this idea into reality because at the end of the day we’re all nurturers who want a sense of doing and caring.  This project allowed us to really implement our emotional string as a team, across chefs, employees, volunteers and everyone involved, all of whom know that what we’re doing will make a difference to someone, somewhere, somehow.”

Staying informed and planning for multiple scenarios provides guidance in times of uncertainty

“I’ve seen some random stuff in my time, but I never thought I’d see the entire world close down – I really hope it never happens again. Aside from the specifics of this situation, the main learning for me is that you can’t, or shouldn’t, go through life expecting something will never happen – it can and it has.  I’m not advocating for a crippling amount of caution at every turn, but always at least consider the worst case scenario when it comes to exploring opportunities and striking deals – be smart, stay informed and have a plan B and a fallback position in place.”



With special thanks to

Neil Perry AM, Rockpool Dining Group