Business people in meeting

Pass me those crisis glasses

In facilitating crisis management training with executive teams, it would be fair to say that their subject matter expertise, managerial and corporate disciplines are well honed and unquestioned. They are responsible for, and well attuned, in ensuring their ‘day to day’ vertical line management, their ‘pillars of excellence’, are effective and productive.

I have however, on more than one occasion, been asked by the CEO or the COO why then, do we see some of these astute businessmen and women falter and struggle in an environment of simulated crisis planning and response mode? My response is simply; “they just need to change the lens in their glasses.”

When these organisations are in BAU mode, these executives manage, lead and make decisions through a lens of governance, approvals, checks and balances, utilising complete and validated information and not dictated (in most instances) by the burden of immediacy of time“They have their business management lenses in.”

However, irrespective of the origin of the crisis, whether internal or external, once declared, the crisis leadership team convenes. Day to day vertical line management transitions into horizontal team management, a ‘beam’ of organisational leadership. The business management lens is removed and the crisis leadership lens is replaced. The ‘crisis response prism of lights’ is now refracted into a spectrum of clarity, objectives, and actions.

Through this new lens, crisis leaders should be able to resist the strong urge to reach into their organisations to provide tactical advice, which we often call ‘leadership compression’. Where before these executives required certainty of information and intelligence, now they will utilise incomplete and dynamic information filtered through the crisis lens to inform key actions and decisions. The 80/20 rule often becomes the principle of the moment. Stakeholders that would be interacted with in normal day to day business are now re-prioritised through this lens into a strategic crisis stakeholder hierarchy where escalation, notification and communication frameworks may be the key to reputational saviour, or catastrophe.

Situations and problems that in a normal environment would be addressed with an obvious and available technical solution, will now, looking through the crisis lens, demand adaptive approaches to problem solving and bold action to create opportunity in what can be an ambiguous environment.

I have found that these are the times, where business executives transitioning into the crisis management team, often have that cognitive difficulty in coping with complex, multiple and competing issues when under pressure. This is not a question of competence, but purely that the human brain is not wired for identifying the truth and pathway amongst all the ‘white noise’ in a time critical period. It needs a special tool; a Decision Support Tool, to help decipher the facts, evaluate the current and potential impact, and develop a strategy to mitigate or control the crisis.

This is where crisis and emergency management professionals can affectionately be termed organisational optometrists. They have been trained, postured and deployed wearing the lens of crisis and emergency response, utilising a decision support tool to execute their plans, bringing normality to uncertainty. These emergency management professionals essentially assist with the ‘fitting’ of crisis lenses.

The trick though is this. Business executives cannot be expected to wear these lenses day in day out in their normal functions and roles, however upon the declaration of a crisis, they should be confident and trained to reach into the top draw, and fit these lenses.


Janellis is an enterprise consulting firm working with leading organisations across many industry sectors and government agencies. We help organisations execute their strategy and are specialists in transformation and change management; organisational resilience; risk and compliance; crisis and emergency management and portfolio and program management.