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CSR-related Crisis Response -- Plan Ahead, But Expect Unique Challenges

2020-03-31  |  9 min read 

As stewards of environmental sustainability, social impact and ethical governance, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) professionals and their internal functional partners are often engaged in key aspects of crisis management. The global spread of COVID-19 is no exception. What I have learned from this and past events -- including regionalized business impacts from wildfires, rolling blackouts and earthquakes -- is that in each event, the general tenants of CSR-related efforts are similar. Strong policies and crisis management procedures are a must to have in place well before an event occurs, but it's imperative to recognize and expect unique challenges in each situation that may require careful consideration and sometimes novel actions.

General Tenants of CSR-related Crisis Response

While ever-present in normal business operations, during a crisis event I tend to field an increased level of questions from multiple corporate stakeholders about the following CSR-related aspects:

  • Employee Health & Safety – Always a first priority in such situations, the health and safety of employees – as well as contractors and temporary workers -- has broad implications across aspects such as facility practices, workplace tools, benefits and business travel.
  • Business Continuity/Emergency Response Management – Critical to governance during a crisis is having processes and systems in place to address dynamic and difficult situations. While many companies have these plans in place, with the hope of never having to use them, they are imperative during an event to ensure minimal disruption of customer and business commitments. 
  • Human Rights & Labor – Working conditions and policies that support individual human rights span stakeholders. During a crisis event, the focus may spotlight specific areas of human rights and labor, but policies around discrimination, privacy, and worker welfare, as well as supply chain flexibility are often front and center.
  • Community Health & Prosperity – Corporate citizenship actions during crises help support the livelihood of local neighbors and organizations. Along with philanthropic and volunteer efforts, even a company’s own products may have a role in improving or addressing issues in the communities where they do business.
  • Environmental Sustainability – Sustainability aspects during a crisis are generally related to weather or other environmentally caused events, such as landscape fire mitigation during wildfire spread and alternative energy sources during power outages.
  • Communications – While not a specific CSR-related topic, I would be remiss not to mention the role of communications across all these aspects during a crisis to keep employees and stakeholders updated on impacts, challenges and opportunities.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of corporate crisis management aspects but are the ones that tend to bubble to the top in the CSR space. As mentioned earlier, having strong policies aligned to the above before an event occurs is critical. That also goes for crisis management team structures to ensure designated individuals are tasked to lead crisis response within a defined decision-making hierarchy for quick decisioning as needed.

At Keysight we rely on our global as well as country- and site-specific crisis management teams to direct our formal response during such incidents, utilizing global policies and procedures already in place, including our:

With such policies in place as a basis, the unique aspects of each event may require distinctive actions.

COVID-19 Response Challenges

The reality is that no amount of planning can uncover the nuances of every crisis. Sometimes unique challenges without precedence do occur. In such times, fast action and decisioning is important to maintain employee health and productivity, customer success, supply chain continuity, community prosperity, and overall business continuity.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and its unprecedented impact on businesses and communities worldwide, certainly has raised some never-before seen challenges. Here are just a few to consider.

  • Site and Regional Closures -- The COVID-19 situation has brought to bear the unusual situation of not only company locations closing, but broad swaths of regions and even countries being shut down. While there are a multitude of employee and community impacts this affects, corporate priority should always be on the immediate well-being of employees and their on-site contract/temporary workers. As country borders close, the urgency is to ensure traveling employees return home safely and that alternative work options are addressed to maintain employee productivity wherever possible. In some cases, new work approaches and services may have been needed to aid in such transitions. And of course, the well-being of employees and associates in this dynamically changing situation has been top of mind as it relates to sick time to support individual employees or family members, mental well-being for those feeling isolated through work at home arrangements, or in instances where job responsibilities cannot be done remotely. Then attention turns to business continuity to manage customer and stakeholder needs in support of maintaining business commitments.
  • Basic Human Rights Challenges -- As a health crisis, COVID-19 involves unique privacy considerations when it comes to employee medical data in support of medical quarantine guidance. Paid time off policy reviews may also have been needed to address the unprecedented level of family and community impact. In these cases, privacy becomes a delicate balance in protecting individual rights while ensuring the health and safety of all employees, customers and suppliers. In addition, consideration of supply chain partnerships and their employees is also critical in supporting basic human rights worldwide.
  • Community Support without Direct Interaction -- With social distancing guidance and limitations on physical gatherings, supporting local communities during COVID-19 has been particularly challenging. For those that are not sick, some charitable organizations continue to work with in-person volunteers if within government guidance. But in many cases, this is not possible. Utilization of individual and corporate philanthropy and remote volunteerism provide alternative approaches for consideration. In addition, some companies are able to redirect their products and services to support specific community needs, such as ramped production of personal protective equipment and delivery services for necessities such as food and medicine.

Even though defined policies and crisis management plans may not directly address all these sorts of incident challenges, when combined with defined decision-making processes they can provide guidance in addressing unique circumstances and help determine appropriate business response.

Onward Toward Recovery

While many businesses and individuals worldwide are experiencing a new, hopefully short term, reality in their daily lives, there will be a brighter day in the future. At that time, efforts will transition to recovery and best practices for business to return to normal, or maybe even in a better state than before as it relates to some of these topics.

In the meantime, we should all lean on our current policies and procedures, support human health and prosperity and incorporate any learnings from this event into our future crisis response management.