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Rick Cudworth and Abigail Worsfold from the Deloitte crisis and resilience team provide a review of the new PD CEN/TS 17091 European technical specification for crisis management, which was launched in December 2018. 

A new technical specification for crisis management calls for a more strategic approach to the discipline. PD CEN/TS 17091 ‘Crisis Management – Building a Strategic Capability’ is a welcome intervention designed to help organizations develop this important capability. In this article we highlight four specific areas where the new technical specification advances good practice and provides more detailed guidance:

Crisis Management as a strategic capability

The technical specification’s expanded title - ‘building a strategic capability’ - is significant.

First, when things go wrong, and inevitably they will at some point, responding effectively will help keep the organization on track. Research published by Aon and Pentland Analytics (Reputation Risk in the Cyber Age – The Impact on Shareholder Value, August 2018) shows that companies that effectively respond to a crisis will out-perform those that don’t in terms of shareholder value. Organizations that see crisis management as a strategic discipline, are more likely to respond effectively when a crisis occurs.

Second, the core principles of good crisis management can be used to help leaders successfully prepare for and deliver strategic organizational change. When an organization goes through a period of significant change, transformation or undertakes a critical project, it will be under more scrutiny and is more vulnerable to even small issues turning into a full-blown crisis. Regulators, investors and other stakeholders can quickly lose confidence in both the strategy and the management team - activist investors may seek to change direction, consumers may have less loyalty to the new products or services. 

Third, while crisis planning is important, so is being agile and adaptive. Crises often require bold gestures and a willingness to change at the most senior level. This is reflected in PD CEN/TS 17091’s updated definition of a crisis: an ‘Unprecedented or extraordinary event or situation that threatens an organization and requires a strategic, adaptive, and timely response in order to preserve its viability and integrity'.

Finally, the technical specification helpfully answers the question we see so many organizations grapple with: ‘who should own crisis preparedness?’ It says the role should be held by the board or executive team.

Crisis leadership

We see more detailed emphasis and guidance on crisis leadership. The technical specification tackles the complexities of leading a team under stress and the attributes of an effective crisis leader. This is a welcome summary, which can be practically applied and complements the growing academic literature on the subject, which has boomed in the wake of high-profile resignations following recent crises.

Training executives in the art and practicalities of leading in a crisis is rarely on their curriculum – but it should be, as this could be the most difficult and important task they have to perform for the organization, and in their career. Failing to do so leaves them and their organization vulnerable.

Situational awareness and information management

The importance and complexity of situational awareness and effective information management is underestimated too often: we have seen it make or break many crisis responses, real and simulated. The technical specification recognises it as a core pillar of response and has placed greater emphasis on it throughout. It isn’t too prescriptive in its guidance on how organizations should actually implement and execute it effectively. Leaving this open to interpretation encourages organizations to put in place processes to support this critical element of the response that are tailored to their own needs. Online tools can increasingly support in this area.

Crisis communication

Previous standards provided a limited view on crisis communication, primarily focusing on media management. The media is just one of many stakeholders a crisis communication strategy needs to address. The new technical specification better recognises this and will help people, especially those not in communications roles, to understand the reach and impact of the communication strategy to the response.

The technical specification also provides more detailed guidance for managing and using social media. It outlines key considerations for planning and suggests that building an effective social media capability in ‘peacetime’ can help a company be more proactive when a crisis hits. This will help organizations that treat social media as a new and emerging ‘nice to have’ to view it as a critical pillar of crisis communication.

Final thoughts

Building a strategic capability in crisis management makes good sense. It can help an organization continue to meet its strategic objectives and build a stronger reputation with its stakeholders when a challenging situation arises. This capability encompasses the key aspects of: organizational governance and leadership in a crisis; coordination, situation awareness and information management within the organization and with external stakeholders; and timely, frequent and transparent communication to all stakeholders.

Investing in this capability will protect and support board and executive members in moments that matter most, when the reputation, financial viability and very existence of the organization is on the line. This timely new technical specification reinforces this and strengthens the guidance available to organizations to build a truly strategic capability. 

The authors

Rick Cudworth has over 25 years’ industry-leading experience in crisis management and resilience. He has been interim Group Head of Resilience for two global banks and has supported executive leadership in responding to crisis events. He has conducted several high-profile post-crisis event reviews, including preparation of public reports and for parliamentary select committee. He is a recognised industry leader in his field and Chair of the British Standards Institution Technical Committee for Continuity and Resilience.

Abigail Worsfold is a crisis management and organisational resilience expert with over ten years specialist experience, including delivering crisis preparedness programmes for clients which include assessments, procedure development, training and exercising. She has also supported clients with their live response during multiple crises, often assuming a ‘chief of staff’ role. She works across sectors and has supported energy, defence, pharmaceutical and retail clients. She is currently leading four global crisis preparedness programmes for FTSE 100 companies.

To obtain PD CEN/TS 17091 click here.

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