In-crisis decision making: ‘resolving the dilemma’

Get free weekly news by e-mailThe first in a series of articles on crisis decision making by Dennis C. Hamilton, Hon FBCI.

Experience has taught us that ‘in-crisis decision making’ has failed its mandate far too often and for the most part, understandably so. Unless your crisis management teams have actually participated in the response to a real-life crisis, you may simply not know the dangers that lie in-waiting. Crises will produce:

* Stress, confusion, fear and anxiety amongst all stakeholders.
* Little or no time in which to respond.
* Missing or uncertain information (facts) on which to base decisions.
* Ineffectual interference of well-intentioned executives.
* An unpredictable situation due to an evolving threat or event.
* Inactivity on the part of internal and external stakeholders due to the unknown.
* Rumours and speculation, the number one adversary of crisis management.

On their own or entwined, they represent extreme pressure on those given the responsibility of in-crisis decision making.

A successful response to a crisis is first and foremost dependent on a clear recognition of the mandate and priority of crisis management; that being ‘the life safety and general well-being of employees and on-site contractors and guests’. While protection of the brand image and minimizing operational disruption are vitally important, any focus other than life-safety at the outset of a crisis is simply a recipe for failure.

To counter the negative impact of these events, there are four major success factors:

1. Having the ‘right’ team responding to and managing the event.

While the organization’s executive management team will have an obvious role to play during a crisis situation (as the corporate crisis management team), it is operational management and control that is the conduit to a successful response. This operational crisis response team needs to be comprised of the most qualified and experienced people in emergency management (and no one else). Senior personnel from the following groups are the only staff you have whose job it is to manage emergencies, problems and crises that impact the organization:

- Business continuity management
- Corporate security
- Health & safety
- Human resources
- Public affairs & communications
- Information technology
- Facilities management

This is the right team to be responsible for crisis management response and control.

2. Applying an in-crisis ‘majority rules’ decision making process.

Stress caused by an event that has resulted in destruction, serious injuries and death can impact anyone. No one is immune regardless of their position, title, age, sex or experience. Every person deals with stress differently, from mild anxiety to complete loss of responsive behaviour. For this reason, an organization should not rely on the decision making authority or capability of a single individual. The crisis response team must function on a ‘majority rules’ decision making basis. You can’t gamble the lives’ of people simply because of someone’s title!

3. Communicating to stakeholders in threatening and time-critical situations.

The right team adopting a structured in-crisis process, can make effective decisions, however; if it cannot communicate those decisions to those who need to know, it will have the same impact as not making a decision to begin with. Whether providing information or instructions to employees, countering rumours or issuing proactive communications to external stakeholders (i.e. customers, the media, critical service providers) the need to issue time-sensitive communications at the outset, during and after a crisis situation is the operational foundation of crisis management. Every decision has a consequence and will always result in action or inaction on the part of others. In the absence of information, internal and external stakeholders will apply their own assumptions and readily make their own decisions; usually not in the best interest of the organization as a whole.

4. Providing the unconditional ‘authority to act’ to your crisis response team.

When your organization is impacted or threatened by an event that could result in serious injuries or loss of life, critically important decisions must be made within minutes. There is little time for debate, no time to work your way through the corporate hierarchy for approval and most certainly no time to write a report on which to gain approval. The crisis response team must have this unconditional and dictatorial authority to take whatever actions are necessary to ensure the life safety of employees.

Managing a crisis to a successful conclusion is burdened with risks and pitfalls. It can be mercilessly unforgiving, placing stress levels on team members that most can’t even imagine. For the majority of team members, participation on the organization’s crisis response team is not part of their job description; they are basically volunteers given the responsibility of saving lives, protecting the brand image and minimizing operational disruption.

To a great extent their success will be dependent on the implementation of crisis management policies, standards and processes; including the four critical success factors presented above.

These and other success criteria will be explored in detail in subsequent articles in this series.

Author: Dennis C. Hamilton, Hon FBCI, is the president of Crisis Response Planning Corporation, an internationally recognized emergency management consulting services company. For over 20 years Dennis has been dedicated to the discipline of crisis management, earning the recognition and reputation as one of North America’s foremost practitioners and advisors to businesses in all primary industries. Dennis can be reached at 416-500-5517 or

CRPC Copyright 2010

•Date: 5th Feb 2010 • Region: US/World •Type: Article •Topic: Crisis management
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