The speed, global span, and widespread impact of the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have made crisis management a top priority for many organizations. Professional accountancy organizations (PAOs) have an opportunity to help their members in times of emergency. Fortunately, a huge amount of information is available. But the amount of information can be a bit overwhelming. The following is a basic framework for PAOs to help your organization act quickly in the current crisis. No matter where your organization is in your crisis management process, this will help you determine your next steps.
The key steps in crisis management are preparation, implementation and mitigation, and lessons learned, evaluation, and recovery.
1. Create a crisis management plan. This should include forming a dedicated cross-functional team. A core group, usually led by your CEO, should lead, prioritize, and coordinate efforts to assess the situation and develop a crisis management plan. The crisis management plan should include the actions your organization needs to do to continue operating, achieve its public interest mission, and mitigate the business impact of the crisis. In developing your plan, the safety of individuals must be the top priority and should be the lens with which the crisis management plan is designed.
Though many organizations do not have a formal plan in place, or have plans that have not been updated recently, it’s never too late to organize and act.
Implementation and Mitigation
2. Execute plans to work virtually. If your organization is not already working virtually, use this time to plan. Although most organizations have used virtual meetings, it’s quite different to be in a completely virtual environment. There are many aspects that need to be considered, ranging from how to make virtual connections as effective and efficient as possible, to the practical challenges and mental health issues of working from home. The Harvard Business Review has a resource that may help: “A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers”.
3. Create a communications strategy. In a crisis, there is inevitably fear and uncertainty. Frequent communication of important information can mitigate this, as well as providing a sense of connection and comfort in very difficult times. Every PAO should plan to communicate with staff, members, volunteers, its board, and other key stakeholders. Communications to staff should acknowledge that fear and apprehension during this time are normal while also helping ensure that everyone has a clear sense of goals and priorities. Communications to members should help them continue their professional activities. For example, communications to firms might focus on changes in tax filing dates or any other legislative and regulatory changes that may impact them. Communications to members might also encourage them to consider the service they can deliver to the public in light of the crisis.
4. Equip your members with resources. Our virtual world offers a host of resources that can be very useful in helping your members through any crisis. PAOs should target the needs of the different sectors of their membership: large and small firms, accountants in business, educators, students, public sector accountants, etc. Members of PAOs need to be equipped to support their clients who might also affected by the crisis. Many larger firms have already produced great materials that could be shared. Also, various e-learning tools are available that can assist your members. Other sectors may have different needs that should be targeted accordingly.
IFAC has launched a COVID-19 Resources web page curating information from our member organizations, the Forum of Firms and other stakeholders, as well as IFAC’s own insights, to help all of us share experiences and knowledge in these unprecedented times.
5. Conduct contingency planning for various scenarios, particularly those focused around business continuity. It is critical to look ahead and consider the “what ifs.” Although the coronavirus is most frightening for the threat to health and safety, it also has serious, potentially devastating, economic impact. Every PAO should consider its strategic priorities in the new environment—what it needs to focus on and what may need to be postponed. It must then consider, based on the crisis and business priorities, what the short- and long-term impacts are on revenues, expenditures and cash flows. While some expenditures can be cut, a PAO may want to consider investing in new ways to support members, such as the development of online programs. PAOs should also update their risk management plans.
6. Reach out. The global accountancy profession is an amazing network that can come together in any crisis. PAOs should consider reaching out to key stakeholders, which can include government and donor agencies, international and national organizations, regulators, financial institutions, etc. Contacting other stakeholders presents an opportunity to share information, and to consider if there are opportunities to collaborate on initiatives.
In some countries, governments are forming national crisis management stakeholder groups. Where possible, PAOs should consider joining such groups to offer the perspectives and support of the accountancy profession.
PAOs struggling to pivot from in-person service delivery to virtual service delivery within a short period of time should reach out to their regional organizations and IFAC member relation contacts to request assistance. For example, regional organizations and IFAC can try to help PAOs identify already-existing online continuing professional development (CPD) offered by other PAOs that—with the appropriate agreement between the PAOs—could be promoted to their members in lieu of their in-person-CPD program.
Lessons Learned, Evaluation, and Recovery
7. Update your crisis management plan—or create one if your organization does not have one in place. Once the crisis is over, don’t stop! Be sure to use this as an opportunity for building an ongoing, all-purpose emergency preparedness plan for any future events and review it at least once a year.
The world has changed drastically in a short time. Whatever the situation is in your country or region, and whether or not your organization previously had a plan, now is the time to act. Your organization can play a critical role in helping the profession navigate the current health crisis while ensuring that you are prepared for future emergencies.