Three lessons learned that may cause crisis response plans to fail:
Lesson One: Crisis response leaders sometimes develop crisis response arrogance
The crisis response role within an organization is very different from most operational positions. It is highly specialized and focuses, in large part, on how to protect and rescue employees/customers/guests in a disaster situation. This unique role and responsibility, usually reporting to senior management, and the specialized nature of the work itself, can sometimes over-inflate an ego.
In order to centralize the responsibility, some organizations will assign only one person as owner for developing and maintaining the crisis response plan. However, this can create a “crisis snob” who is overly confident about his or her ability and importance. If this individual has the chance to effectively respond to a crisis, a “danger of success” scenario may ensue, further inflating his or her ego.
Such a condescending attitude typically alienates and annoys co-workers to the point that an effective disaster response may be sabotaged. To prevent this situation:
- Screen crisis response leadership candidates carefully for maturity and check references on past behavior.
- Consider utilizing a team instead of an individual.
- Monitor group behavior and feedback during drills and exercises. Correct inappropriate behavior as soon as it occurs.
Lesson Two: Attempting to create the perfect structure for responding to every contingency
Some planners try to create a structure to address every possible risk. Typically, these planners have some experience of plan development, but often lack actual crisis response experience.
The problem is that no two crises are alike. The unique circumstances of a given crisis will drive the specifics of the unnecessary response. As a result, having very detailed plans may look great in a binder or on a computer screen, but they may not be applicable in an actual crisis where events are unpredictable.
Planners need to take a lesson from the commercial aviation industry. The nature of the airlines business is such that no other commercial sector is more prepared to deal with a crisis. And, the state-of-the-art in airline crisis response is having plans in checklist format, with broad, open-ended directions that can apply to a plane crash, natural disaster, public health concern or technology interruption. These planners realize that since every crisis is different, the key to an effective response is recruiting the right employees to the crisis response team and training them to be flexible and able to deal with ambiguity.
Lesson Three: Plans are not built around the unique circumstances of the organization
While writing this, I Googled “crisis response” and stopped counting at 20 web pages of resources. Most offered some type of template, so for as little as $50, I could immediately receive a business continuity and disaster management plan for my organization. I merely had to fill in my company name.
This certainly is an inexpensive and easy way to develop a business continuity plan, and may be attractive to organizations that have compliance requirements and limited budgets. However, there is one significant problem – crisis response and business continuity planning is not a “one size fits all” process. The most effective plans are created around the unique circumstances and culture of an organization and consider such things as company mission, products, locations, types of employees, leadership, ownership, regulatory requirements, etc. Customizing the plan to the specific organization also ensures greater employee ownership in a crisis situation.
Trial and error learning can be effective. However, it is far less traumatic to learn by the mistakes of others. By considering and acting on these lessons learned, your organization may be more effective and efficient in creating and implementing a crisis response plan.