Preparing for crisis
Episode 2 of 5
Want to get the most of the “Preparing for crisis” series? Get an exclusive presentation to share this series’ insights and key take-aways with your peers.
“How comfortable are you making decisions without the full set of facts and the information available at that time?”. / Extract of Episode 3 of 5: “Decision-making”.
00:00:08 [Steve Hather]: Unfortunately one of the things we often see in a potential crisis, because the phones are ringing and social media is going viral and regulators are demanding answers and all that’s going on, it becomes very distracting. So where great leadership in a crisis context comes in is the ability to make sure everybody’s focused on what’s really important, and what’s really important is the long term interests of the business.
00:00:33 [Dr David Rubens]: The truth of the matter is that the fundamental characteristics of a crisis is: it is a rare event. It is possibly a once in a lifetime or once in a career situation.
00:00:45 [Dr David Rubens]:And if we accept that there is nothing in this world that we do correctly the first time, I think it’s unreasonable to expect that people will respond effectively to a crisis situation, if it is the first time that they are in it.
00:01:00 [Tim Lambon]: In terms of my response consultants I will be drawing them from people who, in their other lives in previous careers, have been people who have dealt with crisis all the time.
00:01:10 [Tim Lambon]: Soldiers, diplomats, even journalists, are good material for that kind of thing because they are people who go into crisis situations all the time and it becomes a natural thing to them.
00:01:28 [Dave Cope]: Leadership, full stop, is really important in instant crisis management.
00:01:33 [Dave Cope]: I guess what I would consider really really important is is that organizational leaders understand their role in a crisis. They also understand and have a bit of self-awareness about their own behaviors.
00:01:47 [Dave Cope]: We all we all have our tendencies, our natural behaviors, and when we’re put in distress, when we’re put into a pressure situation, we respond differently.
00:02:00 [Dave Cope]: And it’s important to understand and have that level of self-awareness as to how you could have an impact and affect other people.
00:02:11 [Rosanna Voulters]: What happens is part of your brain starts initiating that fight or flight reaction. So actually it becomes a really difficult thing to be an effective leader. I think there are lots of different types of leadership styles that will work during a crisis.
00:02:29 [Rosanna Voulters]: I think what will make a really effective leader is to understand what type of leadership style to adopt in the situation you are presented with. So for example, where you have subject matter experts, that you give everybody the opportunity to be involved in the conversation, so you then need to create space for everybody to to be able to have their input
00:02:51 [Rosanna Voulters]: then that’s the kind of style that you have to adopt. However if it’s getting to a point where nobody is making decisions because people are just sitting around for too long ,and people are deliberating too much, then you might need to be a bit more directive in your leadership style.
00:03:05 [Rob Walley]: People are at the heart of an effective crisis management response and for us ahead of any exercise we want to try and make sure that we’ve equipped people well with the right knowledge and skills to be able to deliver their role.
00:03:25 [Rob Walley]: And not everyone’s suited to the roles that they’ve been given in the plan. Our exercises are designed in a way that we tried to stress test the kind of realistic expectations and demands on the individual to try and work out what role best suits them.
00:03:45 [Dr. Nicola Power]: So one of the really interesting things about working with the Emergency Services is they’re actually made up of a team of teams. So it’s not just one team working together with one leader. It’s actually a group of different teams so police, fire and ambulance, and all strategic operational and tactical command.
00:04:01 [Dr. Nicola Power]: And one of the things that’s important in these distributed team networks is not necessarily having a strong leader but having a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities across the network as a whole. In an interview study that we conducted we identified that team uncertainty was massively influenced by a poor understanding of roles and responsibilities.
00:04:20 [Dr. Nicola Power]: This could be to do with miscommunication. So people were provided with information that wasn’t relevant or didn’t receive the information. And importantly when decisions were made but weren’t actually translated into operations on the ground, which obviously have severe potentially catastrophic consequences.
00:04:43 [Dave Cope]: I think by default people’s positions put them in a crisis management team. I have seen people step out of a crisis management team and I think it’s a really really brave thing to do. And I think it’s entirely the right thing to do if you’re not comfortable in that situation
00:04:59 [Dave Cope]: if you’re in any particular situation. If you become emotionally attached to it. And not many people would consider themselves, you know, looking at the situation as saying, “am I the best person to deal with this?” I think natural instinct and positions in organizations mean that you want to get involved.
00:05:21 [Steve Hather]: Leadership in a crisis, particularly in a crisis, is critical because a crisis is a bet for most companies. So what you want to do is make sure that when you bring people together that ultimately you can develop a strategy that’s going to make sense for the long term interests of the business.
00:05:43 [Steve Hather]: So making sure that you can get everyone on on the same page when it comes to that response strategy becomes really really important.
00:05:55 [Dave Cope]: Leadership and incident crisis response is very much about delegation and trust. And that’s why, as we will talk about, it’s important to you to practice to rehearse and to understand all those people within your team, and that they understand their roles, you know, the leader is there to set a strategy.
00:06:13 [Dave Cope]: If you don’t have the ability to set that strategy and kind of stay out of, what one might refer to as staying out of the weeds, and not get sucked into the daily tasks then you won’t remain, you won’t maintain that strategic position.
00:06:28 [Dave Cope]: That overview of everything that’s going on and trusting, really trusting, and I think if leaders or a lot of people are honest with themselves, how much do they trust other departments and the managers to to go away and complete a task and come back?
00:06:47 [Dave Cope]: A lot of organizations I’ve seen that’s where the leadership system fails, when we don’t trust people and we don’t engender that trust in people either. So people are always deferring. Just be aware, when we’re dealing with an instance or a crisis, there’s a lot of additional work being piled on people.
00:07:06 [Dave Cope]: And there is also a tendency that we start generating even more work by demanding summaries and updates, briefing notes, which may all be necessary and will help and assess that process but just be mindful that’s just piling on more and more pressure.
00:07:27 [Dave Cope]: If we’ve got good governance procedures in place we should be able to see most of that anyway in the summaries.
00:07:36 [Tim Lambon]: I remember one of my response consultants going into a CMT that had 26 people in it. They had generated somewhere in the region of about 3000 e-mails in the three days leading up to him actually arriving on the scene.
00:07:49 [Tim Lambon]: And yet there had been no new information from the situation at all in that time but they managed to generate all this heat and noise. And so what he did was he cut it down and said I want four of these people, the other 22 guys gone.
00:08:07 [Tim Lambon]: And shut down all of this speculation that’s going on in the emails and cut that down. The first CMT meeting in that particular situation that I dealt with, which I was on remotely, lasted four hours. I got the next one down to 40 minutes, and he cut it down to 15.
00:08:29 [Dr Nicola Power]: One of the benefits of using simulations is that we can try to train these different individuals to understand the different roles and responsibilities, and we could potentially do this virtually so we don’t have to locate people together to learn about people’s roles and responsibilities, and we can also maximize training output.
00:08:46 [Dr Nicola Power]: So it’s not just a case of having one individual turning up or a couple of individuals turning up at a live exercise, we can actually run this exercise multiple times across different players. So this can be really beneficial for helping us to understand and grow and train an understanding of the different roles and responsibilities within a multi team system.
00:09:04 [Dr David Rubens]: The question is not what do we need to do but what sort of organization do we need to be?
00:09:16 [Dr David Rubens]: If an organization is based around bureaucratic protocols, process driven management, hierarchical controls, it is unlikely that we’ll be able to make the transition effectively to a crisis situation where those bureaucratic management systems are just not appropriate or effective.
Interviewees in alphabetical order
RW Consulting Solutions Limited
Associate Director – Communications
Group Corporate Security
Director Crisis Response
Dr Nicola Power
Lecturer in Psychology
Dr David Rubens
Institute of Strategic Risk Management
RW Consulting Solutions Limited
Reputation, Crisis & Resilience
RW Consulting Solutions Limited