There are plenty of examples of mega crises out in the world right now, and if you’re even remotely engaged in the day-to-day news, you’ve likely developed some opinions about how some organizations—including your own—respond.

When companies respond to any crisis, they make decisions (good and bad) that will shape their standing in the world, impact their success, and define how they operate going forward. Having plans in place before a crisis hits is obviously best but sometimes, despite your best efforts, you’re faced with responding reactively. Whether your organization had an existing crisis management plan in place before a crisis hit, or had to react moment-by-moment, you likely encountered all kinds of challenges as you managed through.

Here are five things you can do to help your organization to navigate methodically during any crisis:

1. Get Help with Business Resiliency if You’re Unprepared

Business resiliency plans help your organizations continue operations, support employees, deliver on client commitments, and help communities. They also enable an organization to live up to its corporate values, which is critical during crises.

Having led teams of crisis managers responding to customer crises for many years at Cisco, I long ago concluded that the more time you put into business resiliency plans, the better off your organization will be when it comes time to face any crisis, even those you have no plans for. But what if you don’t have business resiliency plans? Or what if the plans you have are not working?

To put it simply, ask for help from a trusted business partner with lots of experience.

Whether your organization is executing a plan right now or responding reactively, Cisco has a portfolio of business resiliency offerings to help to help you work through today’s significant challenges and plan for future uncertainties.

2. Communicate Honestly and Often

During a crisis, people want to see that leadership is aware, engaged, and on top of a situation.

Communicating clearly and quickly to customers is a top priority. Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins recently reached out to customers and partners to let them know he was in tune with the raw realities and concerns about today’s crises and offered tangible ways Cisco could help.

Equally important is communicating with employees frequently in a clear, consistent, and compassionate manner. For example, Cisco’s executive leadership team hosts regular virtual town-hall company meetings with various medical, psychological, and wellness experts, and even a few celebrity guests. These employee “check-ins” are very effective in helping our global employees feel connected, informed, and supported. But top-down communications are just the start. It’s equally important to have communication channels up to leadership. During any significant crisis, teams tend to start responding swiftly in various, creative ways. This work is important but can lead to duplication of effort or confusion for your customers if not coordinated. Developing definitive lines of communication to leadership with consolidated information about the cross-organization response makes it easier for leadership to apply resources where needed.

3. Help Your Cross-functional Neighbor

During a crisis, priorities shift and some teams are naturally busier than others. Flexibility is key to balancing resources and supporting spikes in workload. Employees want to pitch in and this “one team” approach builds goodwill, strengthens relationships, and improves teamwork.

We saw this at Cisco as we experienced an unprecedented increase in usage of our remote workforce solutions for remote work and learning. It’s been great to see our customers and partners use Webex and other solutions to quickly shift their entire workforces to a work-from-home set-up, not to mention others around the world who utilized Cisco’s free Webex offers to stay connected and continue conducting business.

However, behind the scenes, our Webex engineering and support teams had to quickly pivot to build out the platform to accommodate the increase in users, while ensuring stability. It’s been all-hands-on-deck as people from organizations across Cisco stepped up to support Webex and leaders mobilized their teams to help.

Encouraging and helping people across functional lines for the good of customers and the organization during crises pays off by fostering a culture of teaming, collaboration, and customer success.

4. Giving Sparks Giving – Help Your Company Give Back

During crises, are there ways your organization can help communities, individuals, and business partners weather the storm? When executive leadership teams step up quickly and direct company resources to help others, individuals across the organization are inspired to do the same.

Cisco as a company extended free secure remote worker offers so people across the globe could safely connect with family, friends, and coworkers—and continue conducting business. Cisco also offered financing support with a Business Resiliency Program to help customers and partners access technology they need now while deferring most of the costs.

Following Cisco’s example, our employees also spun up ways to help on their own. Seeing a need, an amazing employee on my team connected our services logistics team with a U.S. non-governmental organization to initiate international transportation and logistics of ~1.6 million medical masks to 60+ hospitals across 10 cities in China. Shortly afterwards, she organized medical mask and personal protective equipment donations and delivery to U.S.-based hospitals.

Giving sparks giving and the more that leaders show how the company is giving, the more employees will give.

5. Be an Observer and Record What is Happening

Do you have observer roles to capture how your organization deals with crises? You should. Whether you have methodical, detailed crisis response plans for the most significant risks or not, you will likely learn lessons during a crisis. Record those lessons, capture best practices, and once there’s a return to increased stability, conduct a review with your team to share learnings and update plans. Crises of all flavors are inevitable – what you learn along the way will be valuable in the face of them, and the important takeaway is to always have a plan.


Whether you’re building or executing business resiliency plans, reacting moment by moment, or trying to find a set of general best practices to follow in today’s challenging landscape, Cisco can help. Reach out to us at customer-listening@cisco.com.



Curt Hill

Senior Vice President

Customer Assurance