The Role of the Executive in a Crisis

A few months ago I wrote an article on The role of the Board in a crisis and the need for clarity of expectations between the Board and the Executive, prior to a crisis occurring.

During a crisis, the role of the Board remains one of assurance and governance.  In situations where the Executive are directly impacted or implicated, the Board will need to take an active leadership role but outside of those scenarios, it is the responsibility of the Crisis Management Team to lead the crisis response.

What is the role of the Executive in a crisis?

During a crisis, the Crisis Management Team (CMT), made up of members of the Executive, will quickly form to become the strategic thinking and decision making team for the organisation.  As soon as a crisis is declared, key actions for the Crisis Management Team include:

  • Distil and verify information received from within the organisation and externally and; clarify what is known and unknown.
  • Understand the impacts across the organisation and community.
  • Determine what strategic decisions need to be made immediately (often with incomplete information) and actions that need to be taken now and later.
  • Understand the key stakeholders impacted and develop a strategy to communicate and engage effectively with all key stakeholders (including the Board).

In preparing to respond effectively to a crisis, the Executive need to have:

  • Identified ‘catastrophic’ risks through scenario based activities.
  • An integrated response model with clarity on roles and responsibilities.
  • capability development program that includes training and exercising.
  • Access to crisis management tools that will enable and support a response.
  • Regular reporting to the board and other key stakeholders to ensure alignment and assurance.

The Crisis Management Team, made up of key members of the Executive, are presented with significant challenges in a crisis.

The team will often be mobilised with very little notice. The incident may be uncontained or uncontrolled, putting the team in a high-stakes and high-pressure situation, with significant community and media interest.

The crisis team members need to have strong critical and creative thinking skills and; be able to made key decisions with conflicting or incomplete information, under time pressure and with intense scrutiny.

Key decisions made by the team may be reviewed at a later date and it is essential that there is evidence of clear decision making.

To support these teams for this significant role within their organisation, an on-going capability development and maintenance program needs to be in place.

Building capability through experiential learning

Scenario-based and training and the use of tools to support the crisis management team will provide assurance that the team has the capability to respond to a range of strategic, political, operational, financial and environmental threats.

Developing this capability at the most senior levels within the organisation has significant benefits outside of responding effectively to a crisis including:

  1. Building adaptive thinking capability that can be drawn upon for escalating or unknown risks that emerge.
  2. Enhanced critical and creative thinking capability that can be used during ‘business as usual’ and in responding to ‘slow burn’ or strategic risks.
  3. Uncovering blind spots by identifying risks that could lead to catastrophic events and; enhancing the identification of emerging threats to the organisation.

Janellis have been working with Executive Leadership Teams for over ten years in the specialist area of crisis management.  Many leaders have strong intuitive capabilities to respond to a crisis but the complexity of a crisis will, by its very nature, be immensely challenging.

Individual and collective thinking capabilities are put to the test and tools and training will help the teams to challenge assumptions, ask the right questions and make decision that draw upon their combined experiences.

Key steps to building and maintaining this capability include: identification of ‘catastrophic’ risks through scenario based training; an integrated response model with clarity on roles and responsibilities; access to tools that will enable an effective response; training and testing of the crisis management team and regular engagement with key stakeholders within the organisation and externally.

About Janellis

Janellis is an enterprise consulting firm working with leading organisations across many industry sectors.  Janellis helps organisations execute their strategy and are specialists in organisational resilience; risk, compliance and assurance; crisis and emergency management.

Our crisis management tools have been embedded in organisations across a number of industries in countries including Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, Japan, New Zealand and the USA.

Janellis have recently become a partner of the 100 Resilient Cities, an organisation pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. This partnership provides our crisis management tools to member cities around the world.  The tools are particularly valuable for cities with significant risks and vulnerable communities within those cities.