You can’t suddenly expect people to work in new ways during a crisis!

Posted April 4th, 2011 in Business Resilience, Crisis Management, Resilience Thinking by amy

What makes us think that in the heat of a crisis people will suddenly become more qualified, more experienced, better decision makers, or that they will use new technology, systems or processes? 

It makes perfect sense but I first heard it from Professor Scot Phelps at the Emergency Management Academy of New York. In a presentation at the World Conference on Disaster Management in 2009 he argued that crisis systems and processes should be as close as possible (or the same as) business as usual systems and processes. He gave the example where managers often claim that crisis systems and process such as crisis communication tools, are not effective or are completely ignored during crisis events. Of course his conclusion was that if people are not well practised in using a system or process during business as usual, they certainly will not use it effectively during a crisis.

You can’t suddenly expect people to work in new ways during a crisis!

Most recently this issue came up again in a conversation on a Crisis, Emergency and Disaster Recovery Professional discussion board where one member asked whether crisis management teams performed roles that were an extension of their day-to-day duties or whether they use a different unique structure. This highlights a wider hot topic of discussion within business resilience disciplines over the past few months, how much of business continuity, crisis management, risk management etc. contributes towards business as usual? Of course the answer is that the purpose of all resilience disciplines is to support, protect and enable the organisations objectives so it should all contribute to business as usual.

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One Response so far.

  1. Ken says:

    Absolutely agree with your core point here Amy.

    I do not see how anybody who has lived through a merger/acquisition or significant re-organisation in the corporate world could think that in our moment of greatest peril the first thing we should do is re-organise the entire company!

    This line of thinking also assumes that in the moment of great peril, the highly paid Executives rush off to play golf, leaving the management of the crisis to a range of middle and junior managers.

    It is not always put in as many words, but that is what is promoted with many of the BC Teams or Crisis Management Teams that you find in the field.

    Over the years I have had the pleasure of running numerous Executive level CM and BC exercises around the world. These provided an ideal opportunity to see what senior people will really do, rather than what the BC Managers would propose they should do. At times you are constrained by the client to have people operate in these false structures, and most of the time they struggle with the uncertainty around who to contact/inform and for what reasons.

    This is also where you see the BC Program becoming irrelevant in the eyes of Executives. These type of exercises simply re-enforce to the Exec that they will not be using the BC Plans in a real crisis.

    But when you give them an option, it is rare that they follow these models. People will revert to the normal lines of command – that is what they are most comfortable with. It is also where you see good leadership emerge, when roles and responsibilities are assigned based on the nature of the problem and how best to respond.

    We need to decide if we are to be the ‘Department of Unlikely Events’ (as Nat Forbes says) or we want to be a meaningful part of our organisations – and that means being part of the BAU processes.

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