The highly disruptive world in which we live means that the need for organisations to be able to respond quickly and effectively to rapidly emerging risks or sudden crises has never been greater.
Most organisations recognise this and undertake wide-ranging initiatives to ensure that they are crisis-ready. Largely gone are the days when sophisticated organisations would take part in an annual crisis exercise and thereafter declare themselves ready for anything.
Most crisis preparedness programmes now involve regular audits; highly targeted training; rich, facilitated, desktop discussions about how the organisation might respond to various scenarios as well as methods to track progress and promote continuous improvement. And, huge efforts are made to synchronise related initiatives such as business continuity, cyber and corporate security to name but a few. Until recently these have been disparately managed workstreams yet the links between them are self-evident.
This is good news and represents a significant step forward in achieving organisational resilience. Risk managers have played a big role in this positive development.
There is, however, one area of organisational crisis preparedness that is not addressed as extensively as it should be and that is the preparation of senior leaders.
Most mature organisations now designate a small group of senior leaders as potential leaders of their crisis management teams (CMTs) primarily to enable rapid mobilisation. However, actually preparing organisational executives for the challenges of undertaking this role during a crisis is often something that is addressed either in passing or not at all.
This is, clearly, less positive. Many factors contribute towards helping organisations execute an effective response to a crisis should they be required to. However, if there were one factor that is required in any crisis, irrespective of its cause, it is crisis leadership. So, why does it not receive the attention it deserves?
There is no one, simple answer and a shift towards ensuring that leaders are better prepared to transition from leader to crisis leader as a standard element of crisis preparedness initiatives will require a modification in the approach taken by those involved in crisis management planning. These include internal sponsors of crisis management initiatives such as risk managers, management consultants, business schools and executives designated as potential CMT leaders themselves.
There is though, no need to wait for this shift to happen. There are practical steps any organisation can take straight away:
This isn’t a comprehensive list of actions. There is always more that can be done. However, it is a pragmatic list of actions that can and should be taken by any organisation which hopes to ensure that its leaders can make the transition from leader to crisis leader and in doing so be truly crisis ready. In the turbulent operating environment most organisations currently face, there should be no reason for delay.
Tim Johnson is author of the book Crisis Leadership and a partner specialising in crisis management and strategic risk in Deloitte north-west Europe. IRM members can buy the book at a 30% discount by using this code CRISIS30 by visiting the publisher’s website.