Crisis Management – When Failure Is Not An Option

By: Kim Hirsch, Senior Advisory Consultant and Advisory Team Lead

September 25, 2019 in Crisis Management

Speaker in a room full of peopleCrisis management is a very specific skillset. It’s not for the faint of heart or the indecisive. You have to be able to control an often volatile situation, manage people above your paygrade – which may be up to and including the CEO – communicate effectively and efficiently and successfully complete a million other tasks while under the gun for time and cascading impacts. This all has to happen as you juggle people and information coming at you from every direction. I can remember many crisis activations where I was on my cell phone, being pinged on my computer and by text, every line on my desk phone was ringing and had a line of people at my door.

So, that’s why when clients tell me that their crisis structure calls for the leader of whatever area is most impacted by the event to lead the crisis, I strongly discourage that approach. You can be a very good subject matter expert, the very tops in your profession, and not be a good crisis leader at all. Some people panic. Some people don’t want any responsibility. Some people want all the responsibility. Some people are not decisive when quick decisions are key to success. Besides that, shouldn’t your subject matter experts be concentrating on using their expertise to recover their business area?

Other than having the right instincts and abilities, there are a few other keys to being a successful crisis professional:

  • Chain of command is essential – you have to have decision-making authority and know your parameters before the crisis begins. You also need instant access to leaders that you might need to enlist once you’ve exceeded your own thresholds – your name should be in the contact list of your CEO’s phone and she or he should know who you are and to answer the phone when you call, because something important is going on.
  • Have a trained backup – if you are a team of one, you are going to need a day off eventually and you also need to know that you can handle two crisis events simultaneously and/or rotate shifts for a 24/7 event. If you work yourself to the point of exhaustion, you will not be any good to anybody in very short order. There’s no coincidence that crisis can be a burn-out profession. Don’t be a hero – ask for help before you need it.
  • Have a support team – as stated at the beginning of this blog, there are so many tasks to handle and people to talk to that you are going to need some help. If nothing else, make sure that you have a few people that you can call on to be scribes. You can run a crisis call or you can take detailed notes – no one can do both at optimum speed and ability. The great thing here is that your support doesn’t have to come from this profession – anyone who can take great notes and, hopefully, write quality communications can be enlisted to the cause.
  • Use the systems at your disposal as a force multiplier – tracking down information during a crisis is very difficult, if not impossible. That’s why you have to have established sources of truth that you know are reliable and up-to-date in place. Make sure to exercise using these vital resources. Think of scenarios and play them out with your data. For example, a wildfire is threatening a certain area. Go into your system and put together a report that shows which of your facilities, staff, suppliers, data centers, etc. will be impacted. Be sure to extend the data out and look for downstream impacts and notice how they can change. Now, write a new report that accurately reflects the impacts to your enterprise if your most critical application goes down. Do the same for as many scenarios as you can think of. During times of stress, it can be hard to find the time to sit down and remind yourself how to build-out what you need. That’s why forming the muscle memory and pre-building a lot of what you will use during an event is so important to do during your “downtime.”

When you think of how quickly a crisis event can escalate and everything that is involved in a successful response, it can be overwhelming. That’s why you need the right people, support and systems in place and fully optimized before you need them. Prepare yourself to be the leader that you know that you can be, have the right information and people at your fingertips, and your organization will be happy to follow.

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