Crisis Management – Measuring Readiness

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Commentary by Security Management Expert Ed Levy, Firestorm Expert Council Member

Edward M. Levy is a senior security executive with nearly 30-years in the corporate and government sectors. Mr. Levy was the VP & Global Head of Security for Thomson Reuters. He served in other corporate security positions with Pfizer, CIT Group, and the Empire State Building. Mr. Levy is also a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the US Army and former Assistant Professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

There has been much written on the importance of crisis management planning, and its significance for boards and the respective companies they govern.

Crisis management plans are exactly that – a plan.

A true measure of readiness to manage a crisis is to validate the plan and maintain a continuity of readiness. As Dwight D. Eisenhower stated, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

Plans serve as a foundation for organizational design, defining roles and responsibilities, outlining resources, and establishing reporting and communications mechanisms.

Plans however, are only as good as those who are responsible for executing the plan’s purpose; to understand and apply the plan. Too often, crisis plans are first reviewed during a crisis – not before.

Those unfamiliar and untrained on plans, injecting themselves as a crisis manager become “distractors” or worse, obstacles because of their lack of experience, familiarity, and readiness.

Key components for Crisis Management:

1. Have Crisis Management Plans. Crisis plans should be developed for the various echelons of a company – Board plans, Executive Team plans, and company-level operational plans. Plans should be synchronized to ensure they support the respective roles and desired outcomes for each level of governance and management.

2. Maintain a Crisis Management Team. The team is the foundation for delivering positive outcomes in a crisis. A dedicated, fully functional team that trains together will be ready when a consequential event occurs. Leaders who are too busy to train, should not be on the team.

3. Train and Rehearse the Plans. The only way to validate that plans are feasible, acceptable, and suitable is to train crisis management team members on the plans and rehearse the plans through various scenarios. This should not be a one-time event; a process should be established to sustain proficiency and readiness.

4. Centralize Communications. Communications flow vertically and horizontally, as well as internally and externally. Employing the crisis management team and maintaining a centralized and standardized flow of communications will reflect a consistent message.

5. Apply the Tenant – Unity of Leadership and Unity of Effort. Plans, teams, communications, and an operational rhythm under a unified construct serves as a foundation for crisis management. Crisis management goes askew when groups operate independently in their own silos and fail to function under a unified board or corporate team.

Another significant component for training and readiness is for boards and their executive teams to understand their roles. It’s important to let the operators handle operational responses and measures. Boards and the CEO’s executive teams are to focus on the strategic options, to assess long-term and external impacts and provide senior-level guidance.

No company ever wants to experience an unwanted event. Expectations are that companies remain resilient when faced with adversity. Basically, boards and companies are left with two options: One is to plan for probable and high impact consequences to maintain a state of readiness; the alternative is hope and luck.

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