This blog is presented by the IPR Digital Media Research Center. 

Lawmakers around the world are taking a severely keen interest in regulating data security and privacy.

The #metoo movement created a collective realization that has empowered women everywhere to come forth and speak the truths that have been suppressed to the shadows for decades, creating a global awareness of, and societal intolerance for sexual and psychological abuse by power-stricken men over women in the workforce.

Society is banding together to say ‘enough is enough’ to the longstanding prejudice against minority groups, holding brands accountable for issues that range from gender-equality to racial discrimination.

Each of these are emerging societal trends. Each of these societal trends were triggered by reoccurring injustices that society—from lawmakers to the general public—have developed a zero-tolerance for. Each of these emerging societal trends are not going away, and each of them may present risks to your organization.

Societal Trends as a High-Risk Scenario

How in-tune are you and your team to emerging societal trends and the risks they may present to your organization? What lens do you use to evaluate them? Do you watch them unfold in the news and then move on with your day? Or do you go a step further to evaluate if and how they may present impact (both risk and opportunity) to your brand?

I speak often about the necessity for organizations to identify their high-risk scenarios—that is the most likely, high-impact issues and crises that your organization is prone or vulnerable to—and to take the crisis ready deep-dive approach to preventing the preventable and becoming ready for the unpreventable.

This list of high-risk scenarios is created by exploring the different types of incidents that can occur, resulting in a negative impact on your business’s operations, its stakeholders, its reputation, and its bottom line. This list includes scenarios such as natural disasters, cybersecurity threats, workplace violence, foodborne illness, etc. Rarely, however, does it include an evaluation of the impacts of emerging societal trends.

For example, there’s a difference between identifying “cybersecurity threats” as a high-risk scenario and looking at what is happening with lawmakers around the world and evaluating the impact that new laws and regulations around data privacy and security can threaten to have on your business model.

Depending on the type of business you’re in, both of these scenarios can have the potential to present significant risk to your organization, and yet the former is more widely recognized, evaluated, and proactively prepared for than the latter, leaving the organizations to which this risk applies needlessly exposed.

Having a 360-degree awareness of your risks

Having the ability to scan the stories you read about in the news to better understand the emerging trends that may present new exposures to your organization is a developed skill—a developed skill that offers strategic advantages to your organization, such as:

It expands your awareness.
You can’t be crisis ready and blind. People often define crises as being unforeseeable negative events with high-impact. But the truth is that the vast majority of crises are not unforeseeable, they simply went unnoticed or unanticipated—often times irresponsibly so—leaving the organization needlessly exposed and vulnerable. Being aware gives you the opportunity to be agile, proactive, and opportunistic.

It enables an understanding of the risk of the risk.
For example, sexual misconduct in the workplace or racial discrimination against customers have long been frowned upon and, depending on the specifics of the situation, can present legal risks to a brand. Therefore, they’re commonly recognized as risks to avoid. Today, due to emerging societal trends, the risks of these risks are heightened.

The public has developed a zero-tolerance for these behaviors and is proactively and unilaterally holding organizations accountable for these types of occurrences or behaviors. For example, when two innocent black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia in May of 2018 for simply waiting for their colleague to arrive before ordering their coffees, their fellow coffee drinkers did not simply stand idly by. No. They filmed and shared the injustice that was taking place and consumers across the country collectively stood up to hold Starbucks accountable for the abuse that these two gentlemen were subjected to. Five years ago, this situation would not have generated the attention it did in 2018. Five years ago, Starbucks would not have felt the need to react and respond with the grand gestures that cost them an estimated twelve million dollars in profits.

Understanding societal trends enables you the opportunity to evaluate the new impacts that these trends present to your existing high-risk scenarios.

It keeps you agile.
There’s a reason I don’t believe in simply creating a ‘crisis management plan’ that is, by design, created to sit on a shelf waiting for a crisis to strike. Once created and filed away, plans rarely get updated, and yet, as societal trends change and evolve, so do the risks that pertain to your company—and so do the impacts of those risks. Being able to spontaneously course-correct by anticipating emerging threats from a 360-degree viewpoint enables you to build a business that is powerfully agile, resilient, and sustainable.

Crisis readiness is not a box to check off and move on from, but rather it needs to be embedded as a living, breathing part of your culture and, as such, becomes an asset to the longevity of your business. In this day and age, your business is surrounded by boundless risks that can present long-lasting material impact to your brand. Once you train yourself and your team to evaluate societal trends through the lens of ‘how could this potentially present risk to our organization?’ you will find that your mind becomes acutely alert and aware, providing you with the opportunity to proactively mitigate and even prevent risks before they have the chance to materialize.

Not only does this help you prevent issues and crises, but it presents powerful opportunities to strengthen everything from your internal culture, to your business’s operations, to the relationships you share with those who matter most to your organization.

Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. She is the author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, a keynote speaker, and an advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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