Crisis management is business critical in our current climate of fires, storms, pandemics, military coups, data breaches, civil unrest, war, ransomware and sanctions. Since late 2019, there seems to have been no time to take a collective breath between incidents that have required international organisations to mobilise their crisis management arrangements, assess their exposures and take steps to sidestep or recover from the impact of the incident.
Looking to the experts
As the severity of the pandemic eased in many countries following the success of their respective vaccination programs, a build-up of Russian forces in Belarus and at the Russian border of the Donbas in late 2021 led to warnings of a potential conflict in Europe.
Crisis management teams that had scaled back their meetings to manage the pandemic response were reactivated to consider the organisational exposure to conflict in Ukraine and to formulate an effective response.
Crisis management teams need to be adequately resourced if they are to effectively manage the mountain of information that needs to be collected, processed and disseminated
While these issues caught the attention of many, we also can’t forget that between 2019 and early 2022 some teams had to simultaneously wrestle with the direct impact of Covid-19 while facing coups (Myanmar), political instability (Chad), terrorism and major cyclones (Mozambique), and data security incidents impacting key technology providers (e.g., Kaseya, UKG, Okta).
Faced with such turbulent conditions we all need to be prepared to deal with ‘crisis fatigue’ and find ways to avoid deterioration in the quality of our decisions. Here are five tips that have helped keep the International SOS crisis management arrangements on track through the maelstrom of the last two years.
1. Get the right resources in place
Crisis management teams need to be adequately resourced if they are to effectively manage the mountain of information that needs to be collected, processed and disseminated. Scribes, analysts and communications specialists help you to stay on top of the mountain of information, use it to inform your decisions and get it to the stakeholders who need it in time to do something about it.
2. Tap your reserves
Of the many lessons that I have taken from the last two years from observing my colleagues managing corporate, regional and country teams through the pandemic and other crises, the most important is that there is a wealth of exceptional crisis management capability that sits beyond our historical ‘centres of excellence’ for these skills.
As one of our corporate crisis coordinators sitting in on regional and country crisis management team deliberations, I have come away in awe of managers in Myanmar, Mozambique, Chad and elsewhere who have kept their teams on task through waves of infection, while simultaneously coping with communications outages, arrests, conflict and constant uncertainty.
Identifying individuals with this capability, providing coaching or additional training and flagging their potential to step in to support other situations as crisis coordinators or alternates will provide you with a cadre of strong leaders for future events.
3. Rotation and renewal
At the outset of an incident, the ‘excitement’ of the crisis acts as a pull for crisis managers to stay in the game and want to be engaged for 24, 48 and up to 72 hours.
However, over time the quality of their decisions will drop, they slow down and they may need to be withdrawn from the crisis management team. Starting the event with a disciplined approach to the role of primary and alternate crisis responders ensures continuity and makes good decision making more likely.
Coaches can provide an independent eye on how the crisis management team is run, which allows for continuous review of the group and meeting structure
Long, uninterrupted periods in which daily or weekly crisis management meetings are run can also test the resolve of individuals and the organisation, particularly if they are expected to soldier on in the driver’s seat through this period. The energy with which teams tackle emergent issues is likely to drop as fatigue sets in.
Insisting on a rotational approach where nominated alternate or tertiary representatives are updated on the situation and can then take the lead is vital. This will encourage improved functional passage of information and supports the sustainability and resilience of the team. This should apply at all levels from crisis management team leaders down.
There is a lot of merit in establishing a governance/coaching function for your crisis management teams. This can sharpen your response and reduce the burden on leaders.
Coaches can provide an independent eye on how the crisis management team is run, which allows for continuous review of the group and meeting structure. When the governance group is positioned as an advisor to the crisis management team leader this can also help share the risk and reduce the burden on business leaders who may be less familiar with the dynamics of crisis management.
This is an approach that has been implemented by our director of crisis management and business continuity, Mike Hancock. We use a team of corporate crisis coordinators who provide this observation and coaching function for regional and country teams. We always ensure that one of the coordinators is assigned in support of a regional or country crisis management team to ensure that there is a facility for feedback and advice to the team leader. Coaches notice when leaders are tired and can suggest additional contingencies that should be considered, mobilise additional resources when required and provide feedback to leaders between team meetings.
5. Make use of technology
Based on our recent experience and a survey of organisations in Australia, the most valuable aids to crisis management were ranked as follows:
- Access to intelligence
- Mass notification platforms
- Virtual meeting and communications platforms
- Risk platforms
- Up to date crisis management team manual and a well-rehearsed plan
Timely and accurate information is critical for crisis decision-making and the ability to share insights and decisions in real time with the workforce can eliminate the lag between decision and action. Management tools that improve information dissemination, capture key decisions and identify risks, help to remove grit from the cogs of a crisis management team. Having a relevant plan that teams are intimately familiar with makes it more likely that a response will be well coordinated and efficient.
It is essential that organisations have a sound data transfer strategy that periodic tests, access reviews and training are conducted for end users
Tools need to be easy to maintain, seamless to access and reliable. While mass communication tools were seen as the second most valuable tool that respondents had used, quality of data and ease of use were concerns. 71% of organisations surveyed used a mass communication platform, but 35% of those reported they are not easy to use or reliable in times of crisis. Additionally, 64% raised data quality issues as their main challenge.
Therefore, it is essential that organisations have a sound data transfer strategy that periodic tests, access reviews and training are conducted for end users.
Reducing crisis fatigue
All of these elements add up to reduced crisis fatigue, improved crisis management capability and, ultimately, better business resilience.
In the turbulent times we are living through you won’t always predict the next crisis, but a bag full of capability is the next best thing to a crystal ball.
Interested in this topic? Read What can HR learn about the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine?