Widespread instability and growing threats to vital organizational interests are indelible on the canvas of the foreseeable future. As no two events are identical, no plan can anticipate or address every possible circumstance. In response, many organizations staff a Crisis Management Team and assign roles and responsibilities. However, implementing this effort alone is inadequate to address the dynamic nature of crisis. It also creates assumptions, with the potential for significant undesirable conditions with possibly irreversible results. To obtain an appropriate level of organizational resiliency, a successful Crisis Management Team must plan, train, and monitor its risk profile to ensure an effective crisis response. In building a successful Crisis Management Team, one of the best methods is a Programs Approach which uses the following key tenets to avoid common pitfalls.
Leadership and Staffing of a Crisis Management Team
A foundational aspect to any endeavor is leadership. Common to a successful Crisis Management Team (CMT) is an executive sponsor and CMT leader. The executive sponsor sets forth goals and expectations while ensuring the resources are available to achieve them. The CMT leader develops, implements, administers, evaluates, and maintains the program in alignment with the sponsor's goals and expectations.
The role of the CMT is to oversee the risk profile, provide adequate support to mitigate anticipated or imminent risk, and return the organization to normalcy. While it may seem counterintuitive, recognizing the organization is in crisis can frequently be one of the most difficult aspects of this endeavor. To address the risk of this oversight, the CMT must ensure there are means for awareness, notification, preplanned measures, and integrated processes. These preparations support response and recovery from potential and identified risk in regards to the safety, security, health, finances, and travels of the organization. This extends to the overall enterprise and its responsibility as to what was or should have been known, prior to the disruptive event.
When selecting a team member to lead the crisis response, the CMT leader should appoint the best-qualified person to address the event. Just as no two organizations are identical, neither are CMTs. Typically, Crisis Management Teams are comprised of high-level members of the organization from varying disciplines. Depending on the size and needs of your organization, the makeup of your team will vary. However, a mix of personal attributes and characteristics are essential to formulating an effective team. Personnel with position, an ability to quickly assess often unknowable situations, who can rapidly initiate actions to separate, protect, and reduce impacts are essential to the CMT. While every member may not exemplify desired traits, a good Crisis Management Team is symbiotic; with the ability to unite, pool resources, engender confidence among each other, and work together toward common goals.
The core CMT typically consists of senior personnel from legal, operations, communications, and human resources. Other personnel should be identified and staffed on an as-needed basis. This may include staff from the list below.
- Public Relations
- Environmental Health and Safety (EHS)
- Facilities or Property Management
- Information Technology
- Purchasing, Supply and Distribution
- Quality Control
Capabilities of a Crisis Management Team
Leadership has the responsibility to organizational stakeholders to build and maintain a Crisis Management Team that can detect, assess, and respond to events which exceed the capacity of emergency response or events outside of analyzed risk parameters. Crisis Management capabilities should include policies, plans, procedures, and processes to ensure an effective response in order to return the organization to normalcy. It is important to dedicate knowledgeable personnel and sufficient resources towards the design, implementation, and deployment of this documentation; as it provides a tangible return on investment when events are mitigated from becoming major crises. Key team capabilities needed when a crisis occurs include:
- The instinctive application of Risk Management Competencies
- Ensuring the CMT gravitates to circumstances and consequences versus the disruption
- A process that allows systematic review of the risk profile for impacted operations and assets
- The ability to implement ad hoc mitigation until all assets are free from disruptor impacts
- Precluding risk from evolving through complexity and cascading effects
It is important the CMT, at all levels, be able to operate within the incident management operational cycle to identify risk, develop mitigation (degree of risk drives the level of intensity), procure and dedicate resources, and assess the impact once deployed. Collaboration skills is a must for successful Crisis Management Teams.
Communications are critical to the organization's credibility, reputation, and ability to resume normal operations. The need for information is a vacuum for all concerned. Given global hyper-connectivity, the real-time cycle of social media, and the general population's position that everything is public information; it is imperative social media is monitored and event information is continuously updated to ensure communications are accurate, timely, and relevant to intended audiences. During a crisis, accuracy and speed in communications are paramount, with the CMT ensuring: 1) the right information is provided to the right stakeholders at the right time (which reduces stress to those affected) and; 2) the corporate commitment to resolving the crisis and controlling the flow of information (which prevents rumors and misinformation) is firmly demonstrated. In the 21st century, it is vital to realize the story is likely to be ahead of the CMTs response.
With all of this in mind, when planning, conducting, and controlling crisis communications; ensure the organization has addressed communications with employees, families, suppliers, the media, and have developed processes for situations involving high levels of fear or unknown risk. The need for these efforts to be effective cannot be overstated, as the media will undertake an unrelenting effort to draw more and more information, regardless of the source or its accuracy where CMTs are found lacking. To address this, the CMT should create a media relations element with the spokespersons tasked to develop relationships with local media (e.g. invitations to meetings, open houses, and luncheons) to aid their understanding of the organization's culture, operations, and contributions to the community. This provides an opportunity to learn about their needs, as they will become stakeholders during crisis.
One method to aid the CMT, and counter crisis hearsay, is to immediately develop a Holding Statement. The Holding Statement is designed to provide a detailed yet concise picture of the situation. By preparing an initial Holding Statement and updating it as the response to the crisis evolves; the CMT will have an accurate picture of the assets impacted, efforts to mitigate risk, and the plan to share information with relevant stakeholders. It may also be helpful for the organization's spokesperson to develop and provide a media kit with general information about the organization at the onset of the crisis. Providing the media a controlled area with power, connectivity, and comfort items can also aid relations.
Training and Exercises
Given the high probability for the frequency and severity of disruptions to increase; training and exercises should be based on the current situation and forecasted changes to the organization's risk profile. An ongoing focus on training will maintain the desired level of CMT capabilities, with drills and exercises demonstrating the level of CMT effectiveness while also identifying any additional needs. Furthermore, the manner in which resources are applied (throughout the planning, implementation, and post-plan continuum) will require timely and precise adjustments. Attaining and maintaining this perishable skill will necessitate formal training and frequent exercise to build a successful CMT.
In an event, attention and focus will initially gravitate to the disruption. However, leadership and management should quickly transition their focus to circumstances and consequence; without overlooking the need to continue to monitor the disruptions origin for deviations and the likelihood of cascading effects. To ensure executives, managers, and employees are prepared to execute their duties in support of the organizations Crisis Management Plan; adequate training must be offered to ensure all personnel are familiar with how this process is designed to work. Specifically, their assigned duties and responsibilities. To ensure the organization maintains an appropriate level of preparedness to respond to crisis; all of the activities listed herein, and the required frequency to meet the desired levels of performance, should be firmly established.
As globalization furthers complexity and interconnectedness, effective response and recovery planning will require the increased monitoring of the organization's risk profile to maintain the requisite balance between preemptive, proactive, and reactive efforts. One of the best ways to prevent crisis from occurring is to develop a risk profile specific to organizational assets, anticipate the types of events that may occur, and either plan to prevent or respond to them. The degree of response is determined by the manner in which the event is classified (e.g. emergency or crisis) as depicted in Figure 1 below. Underestimating the scope and severity of organizational disruption by the event is often the antithesis of the successful CMT.
Figure 1. Event Escalation Flow Chart
As you can see, achieving and maintaining a successful Crisis Management Team requires the diligent monitoring of internal and external climate and culture; as the effectiveness of applied mitigations can change rapidly. It is also important to emphasize that tradeoffs reside in all decision-making. Maintaining a state of normalcy is directly dependent upon the risk of an asset or process becoming disrupted.
The key to managing risk is fully understanding each assets risk profile. This profile focuses on three (3) major factors (threat, vulnerability, and consequence) which are realized by all assets. As factors within the risk profile change, the organization must be prepared to adjust the degree of mitigation to lower risks that are too high, as well as forego the cost of mitigation that may be unnecessary. Historically, shifts in the risk profile are a result of changes in disruptor intensity.
While changes, in consequence, may change the level of analyzed risk, adding or enhancing existing mitigation strategies are usually adequate to mitigate the change. However, new areas of consequence (where existing mitigation is ineffective) must be reported for inclusion into the organization's Risk Assessment to ensure the CMT can sustain a high probability of successfulness. Reactive disruptors are already involved in some phase of impacting your organization's assets. These are usually identified through a robust and effective Risk Management Plan. The successful CMT is one from an organization that:
- Adequately assesses risk
- Constantly monitors the risk profile to detect potential threats
- Consistently executes preemptive and proactive risk management strategies
- Rapidly implements an effective response to preclude the opportunity for crisis
Once a crisis is under control, it's tempting to move on after the organization has returned to normalcy. A successful CMT will ensure they immediately reflect on how the crisis was managed, perform a formal after actions review, develop corrective actions and implement change management while reinforcing the training that provided the desired results.
After building a successful CMT, the challenge becomes how to refine and maintain their performance. The program should be reviewed on a scheduled basis. Especially after any changes in team personnel, major revisions to plans, new executive leadership, after testing the CMT, or following an incident that required CMT activation. Periodic consideration should be given to the use of external evaluators to further ensure the CMTs continued success.
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