December 4, 2011

Preparing for the unexpected

Businesses can't plan for every adversity but Italian restaurant franchise, La Porchetta has proved that a good crisis plan helps owners and employees deal with the worst of tragedies.

Businesses can’t plan for every adversity but Italian restaurant franchise, La Porchetta has proved that a good crisis plan helps owners and employees deal with the worst of tragedies.

The sudden death of the well-known businessman thrust the family into the spotlight as Rocky was the public face of La Porchetta and media interest was intense.

Sara says that, at a time when the family was in shock, having a crisis management plan helped prepare her for the media attention, right down to the relevant information needed for a media statement. It also meant staff were immediately and fully aware of their roles and responsibilities, including supporting each other, fielding all calls into the office, acting on information as it was received and communicating to franchisees before they found out from media reports.

La Porchetta started working on a crisis management plan a few years ago, thinking it might be needed if they had a food safety or occupational health and safety incident. Sara says the weeks after Rocky’s death showed them that a well-thought-out plan could be adapted to any situation.

“You cannot avoid a crisis … [but] you can determine if your business is ready to deal with a crisis,” she says, adding that any small business can adapt a plan for its circumstances. “It’s about putting processes in place in order to deal with scenarios if they occur.”

It can include simple measures like testing your evacuation plan and ensuring that your employees know what to do in the event of a robbery, Sara says. “It shows your employees that they’re important and that people’s safety is foremost.”

She says a crisis management plan has to be a living document that’s continually revisited. La Porchetta took a year to finalise its plan and, in the process, assessed its risk management. Staff and franchisees were part of the process.

Other businesses may adopt a different approach but the end result of a crisis management process should be the same for all organisations – a plan that will enable a business to quickly and efficiently respond to a critical situation.

A good place to start is by evaluating what types of crises could affect your organisation – everything from natural disasters and technological issues to personal tragedies, confrontations (such as boycotts or picketing) and management misconduct. Then run a checklist on the contingency processes either needed or already in place in order to respond to that crisis. Questions to address include, Is there a dedicated crisis management team in place? Can the organisation communicate effectively with its employees when a crisis occurs? Or is there a communication plan for victims’ families?

For La Porchetta, having a plan in place helped to improve the overall business because areas of weakness and opportunity were quickly identified.

“We now have a plan that franchisees use to determine their own risks in their premises, because no business is the same,” says Sara.

The company has developed a quick crisis reference guide for franchisees to keep by the phone and an SMS alert system enabling it to send out a mass notification quickly. “We improved our IT, now outsource to an IT manager and have a stronger server.”

Sara says every team leader in the company now has a replacement and, if there is an incident, everyone knows their role so they are not scrambling to form a team as a crisis unfolds. The plan covers support for staff, for example providing counselling if they are robbed.

In recognition of her achievements, Sara was named 2010 Franchise Woman of the Year by the Franchise Council of Australia and her family of restaurants has continued to implement its growth projects. “We are proof that planning is not a waste of time.”

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