7 Jun 2018

“There can’t be a crisis next week, my schedule is already full”. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s tongue-in-cheek statement masks several deeper truths. Few leaders in government or business would actively choose to have to respond to a crisis. Who would blame them: crises require you to give up control of daily life; they are unpredictable, personally uncomfortable and have the potential to ruin reputations at both a corporate and an individual level. Oh, and they mess up your schedule.

So while it is human nature to avoid having to put oneself in an uncomfortable scenario, crisis requires pre-planning. Crisis planning should be fit for purpose, both for the routine and the novel, potential scenarios need to be thought through, possible responses and the process of delivering them systematised and rehearsed. Outcomes are never good if your first run-through is on the “Big Night”.

Not being prepared can overwhelm companies. Curiously though, many organisations and their executives still seem reticent about putting in the ground work that will enable them to deliver in the worst of scenarios. If you need to call consultants when the crisis hits, you’re already behind.

A 2015 study of 2000 C-suites executives by consulting firm Deloitte revealed that half of them didn’t know what their biggest risk as an organisation was; and half didn’t know whether their response mechanism had been tested.

This despite the evidence of multiple surveys that show that reputation risks are executives’ biggest worries, with speed of amplification of information potentially creating significant impact in minutes.

Crises test the decision-making skills of management teams, potentially overwhelming them with vast amounts of data. With social media and 24/7 news flow, being able to assess and reframe as situations unfold is key. Crisis requires a cool deliberateness and willingness to be patient under pressure. An organisation’s crisis plan is the guiding framework that enables leaders to do that.

That crisis plan is key. Under extreme pressure, people act differently from how they do in normal circumstances. Not submitting to the development of scenario planning and a strong, executable plan often leads to leaders fumbling responses in a crisis: witness the immediate responses of BP, United Airlines, VW and others.

At a time when three-quarters of populations in 28 countries are “distrustful” of business, few leaders can afford underperform in a crisis situation.

Crises offer leaders the chance to prove their ability to act with integrity, in alignment with their values and show they have the skills, knowledge and expertise for the roles that they fulfil. It enables them to show their ability to find common ground with their most important stakeholders, to build and nurture positive relationships.

A crisis enables them to show their dependability – honouring their commitments and holding themselves to the same standard as the team.

Knowing that their crisis plan is robust and rehearsed will enable them to do that no matter what they have to reschedule to do it.