When a crisis hits a company, most executive managers will instinctively try to involve themselves in the hands-on management of it. Although they certainly have important tasks and responsibilities in such situations, they should be kept out of the crisis management room at all costs.
A streamlined crisis management organisation is imperative to handle the crisis effectively, and an over-populated crisis team does more harm than good as it often creates confusion regarding roles and tasks.
Let your Team Focus
A crisis is chaotic by nature so it is vital that the team responsible for managing it at a tactical level is allowed to work undisturbed and focused. As a manager, you might feel it is your right to be updated and included at all times, but that doesn’t include bursting into the team's designated workspace to figure out what is going on.
Instead, you should set up a system where you can access all updated and verified information while your team works on the response. For instance, you can implement swipe card access to the room the team is working in, making it impossible for “outsiders” to get in. In exchange, the team gives you access to all verified information through a software system. Not only will the team be able to work more efficiently, but it also prevents you from giving false or unconfirmed information to, for example, the media.
The levels of the crisis organisation
The further up the chain, the less operational work there is to be done. Level three should not have the same workload as level two. Also, note that both perspective and tasks are vastly different between the levels.
Your Tasks as Executive Manager
It is equally important to ensure that the business runs while the response is underway. This is the executive manager’s responsibility. On one hand, you must make sure your customers don’t lose their provider because of the incident, and on the other, sufficient revenue must be generated to provide the resources the crisis response requires. Your responsibilities during an incident will include the following:
- Speaking to the media
- Providing the crisis management team with the finances and resources for them to respond effectively
- Allocating resources from elsewhere in the business if required
- Looking at the long-term future of the business and making sure jobs are safeguarded
- Liaising with regulators and the government
Most importantly, the strategic level must not take over tasks from the tactical level but remain available for support. Remember – the strategic level must keep a long-term perspective – and not get stuck in the present situation.
When do problems arise?
It looks simple on paper, but can be difficult to achieve in many organisations. Why is that?
Firstly, because the natural impulse of a manager is to be present and directly involved when something is threatening the business.
Secondly, it is about managers wanting to be where decisions are made, allowing them to take charge, show initiative and have direct influence over short-term development – often in direct competition with the tactical level (who more often than not have deeper knowledge and insight into the inner workings of the business). The long-term strategic perspective is perhaps just less exciting.
Finally, it has to do with a lack of understanding. It may not be seen as a problem, and one may think that it can’t hurt to include as many as possible, but the truth is that it does. In an over-populated strategic crisis management team, the risk is always present that members from level three without specific tasks interfere with the tasks designated to level two.
The most important key to success in streamlining the handling of crises is to implement the above principles within the organisation and to make sure that this is documented in the crisis preparedness plan. It provides necessary insight and understanding of why things are done the way they are.
Furthermore, it is important that level three exercises appropriately. Those designing the sessions must ascertain that the drills are aimed at the correct level.
Senior executive teams should not apply their seniority over tasks that are better handled on a lower level. Training on a strategic level can seem rather dull, but it is important to make use of the right competencies to make it meaningful. Exercises for corporate communications and press handling are central ingredients in an exercise regime on this level.