Crisis Management is Getting Harder

Yesterday I was speaking at Reed’ Exhibition’s excellent Business Continuity Conference at London Excel. The subject of my talk was “Why crisis exercises don’t work”. There was a touch of deliberate controversy in this choice of topic. I was aiming to challenge the accepted wisdom. But there’s a lot of truth in this perspective.

I should point out however that when I say “crisis”, I don’t mean local incidents, emergencies or even major IT failures. I’m referring to events that spiral out of control, overwhelming management and threatening the very survival of the organisations. This type of crisis management requires strategic thinking, logical analysis and imaginative solutions. It demands a broad, objective perspective that’s different from the one inherited from your day job. It also requires extraordinarily good teamwork. That’s already hard enough to achieve in a perfect crisis room. But it’s even more difficult to achieve across an international conference call, spanning unknown people from multiple organisations. Yet that’s the reality presented by today’s modern business environment of deep outsourcing, complex supply chains and virtual team working.

Exercises are essentially opportunities to come to terms with our limitations. Crisis teams rarely possess the full knowledge, skills and objectivity to develop the optimum strategies and solutions. Careful planning, preparation and practice do help of course. They enable us to deliver a higher standard of cock-up. And that’s worth a large chunk of market capitalisation. It could be the difference between sinking and swimming following a real business crisis.