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The Role of the Board in a Crisis

The frequency of crisis events has raised questions on the role of the Board before and during a crisis. Janellis have been working with executive leadership teams in building their crisis management expertise for over ten years and understand that the Board has a key role in preparing for and responding to a crisis.

The role of the Board is to provide oversight and governance during ‘business as usual’and during a ‘crisis’ event.

The Board’s main role, prior to a crisis occurring, is ensuring that their organisation is prepared to effectively respond to a range of disruptive events.

Assurance needs to be provided to the Board so that they trust in the capabilities of the chief executive and the crisis management team. Members of the board need to be confident that the crisis management team can manage the strategic requirements of a crisis.

Clarity of expectations is critical in this relationship. The crisis management team needs to understand before the crisis event, what the board members require during the crisis response, and how they will support the associated organisational response. Conversely, the Board needs to ensure the executive team are fully cognisant of their expectations relating to the agreed strategic intent.

Board members should resist the urge to make too many demands on managements time during a crisis.  The crisis management team members will have established relationships and processes and be best placed to understand the impacts across the organisation and to mobilise the appropriate resources.

An effective crisis management team should provide assurance and demonstrate critical thinking capabilities by: identifying the facts; identifying what is unknown; understanding the impacts across the organisation; considering most likely outcomes and worst case scenarios; identifying key stakeholders impacted and developing and communicating their plan.

This process will often take place with incomplete information and under immense time pressure. The crisis management team will ideally focus on managing the incident rather than managing the Board requirements.  However, one of the key activities of the crisis chair is to provide situational awareness to the Board through regular and effective briefings, enabling the board members to support the crisis management team to maintain shareholder, regulator and community confidence.

Depending on the nature of the event and to ensure that the strategic objectives of the organisation are met, the Board may be called on to:

  1. Become a ‘sounding board’ to the crisis management team for significant strategic decisions that need to be made.  This may be crucial to the effectiveness of the crisis chair and the crisis management team, depending on the size, complexity and scale of the crisis.
  2. Endorse the key strategic decisions and actions of the chief executive and crisis management team and provide Board level oversight regarding these key decisions.
  3. Liaise with key external stakeholders including the regulators, shareholders and the media, only as agreed upon by the crisis management communications team.

In what situations would the Board need to operate as a crisis team?

The role of the Board may change from a role of oversight to one of leadership where the crisis has a direct impact on the chief executive and/or their leadership team.  Questions board members should be asking at this time are:

  1. Are any members of the crisis management team implicated or impacted by the crisis?
  2. Do the crisis management team have the skills and capability required to respond to this event?
  3. Do the crisis management team need additional support?

If the entire crisis management team and their alternates are unable to lead a crisis, the strategic decisions will lie with the Board and they will need to assemble and direct a new crisis management team.

What can the Board do to prepare for a crisis event?

Members of the Board have a highly influential role in crisis management preparedness.  They should be asking targeted questions to executive leaders to ensure that an adequate level of preparedness has occurred and that capability exists at all levels within the organisation.

Key actions for the Board are to ensure that:

  1. Emerging risks are effectively monitored and that contingency plans are developed for significant emerging threats, as they are identified.
  2. The organisation has the demonstrated capability to respond to a range of strategic, operational, financial and environmental threats.
  3. There is a robust and strategic exercising program with scenario-based activities that develop critical thinking capabilities at multiple levels within the organisation including the incident, emergency and crisis level.
  4. The organisation has access to crisis, emergency and incident management tools to enable them to respond in a co-ordinated way that facilitates critical thinking.
  5. Members of the board understand how the organisation would respond to a crisis event, including key roles and responsibilities and; that board members have access to crisis management tools should they be required to lead a crisis event.

What is ‘better practice’ in Board level crisis management?

In working with organisations to develop a mature crisis management capability, opportunities arise to invite select members of the board to participate in the crisis management scenario-based activities.  The Boards role in these activities can be as an observer, a ‘player’ in the scenario or simply to be briefed, as a rehearsal for what would happen in a real event.

Customised hypothetical-style activities can be designed specifically for board members to build their capability individually and collectively.

Organisations with high levels of trust between board members and the executive team are able to work together to build and maintain a mature crisis management capability.

If you have any specific questions on The Role of the Board in a crisis please email me at Natalie.Botha@Janellis.com.au or read more about our crisis management training and tools. To register your interest in attending an event on this topic please visit our Events page.

Resilience in Action Video – Janellis and 100 Resilient Cities Global Partnership

This video highlights the importance of city-wide resilience, the role of business in building resilience and the value of a global partnership with 100 Resilient Cities.

Featuring Michael Berkowitz, CEO of 100 Resilient Cities and Natalie Botha, Managing Director of Janellis.

Watch now…

For more information on Janellis resilience capabilities:

For more information on 100 Resilient cities:

 

Is your organisation prepared for a CBD-wide emergency?


The need for CBD stakeholder groups to align and build a coordinated response capability has never been greater.

In 2015, the NSW Government updated the CBD-wide emergency management arrangements for organisations operating in the Sydney and North Sydney CBD.

These changes now demand that all CBD business leaders and property managers understand their new responsibilities – and crucial role – in responding to a city-wide emergency.

To help these groups interpret the new plan, and it’s impact on business, an online resource was launched jointly by Janellis and NSW Police www.cbdresponse.com.au in December 2015.

Leaders are now asking these questions with regards to a CBD emergency:

– Does everyone in the organisation understand their role in a CBD-wide emergency?
– Do we have confidence in our capability to respond?
– Are our plans aligned with the government’s and our property managers’ plans?
– Will we be able to coordinate our efforts in an effective way?
– Are we compliant with the Australian Standards and relevant regulations that underpin our response capability?
– Can we provide assurance to our key stakeholders and regulators that we have it covered?

Emergencies by their nature are challenging to respond to. CBD emergencies have additional levels of complexity including large numbers of people in high-rise buildings and a heavy reliance on transport infrastructure.

Dependencies between businesses, facilities managers, emergency services and property groups all need to be considered. Organisations must be confident that plans are aligned, CBD risks considered and teams responsible have the knowledge, capability and tools they need to be effective in their response. The need for these key CBD stakeholder groups to work together to build a coordinated capability has never been greater.

How can you be assured of your CBD Emergency Management capability?

To help businesses leaders answer their critical questions, build their CBD emergency management capability and provide assurance to key stakeholders Janellis have developed the City Resilience Capability Review for businesses.

The City Resilience Capability Review identifies gaps that require immediate attention, as well as ‘better practice’ approaches that can be applied more broadly across the business.

Our unique approach:

  • builds on investments already made in the areas of emergency management preparedness
  • creates alignment with specific CBD emergency requirements
  • ensures integration across all incident, emergency and crisis management planning; and
  • delivers confidence to all key stakeholders involved on their capability to respond.
CBD Response on multiple devices

CBD Response Digital Platform

We review a collection of relevant documents, conduct field inspections of CBD sites and have one-on-one meetings with nominated stakeholders. We specifically examine and assess the integration of the key requirements within CBD Response against your emergency management plans and procedures.

How have other businesses used this approach to create alignment?

By understanding the requirements set out in CBD Response and initiating a City Resilience Capability Review, businesses have gained confidence and assurance of their response capability in a city-wide emergency scenario.

The reviews have given them a roadmap to ensure that:

  1. Responses will be coordinated;
  2. People will be safe; and
  3. Impacts to the business are minimised.

Why Janellis?

  • Janellis are experts in the niche area of CBD emergency management and city resilience. We have specialised in this area for over 10 years helping complex organisations align, integrate, test and assure their emergency, crisis and organisational resilience capability.
  • In 2006, Janellis first developed the ‘CBD Emergency Management Guidelines for Businesses’ in collaboration with the NSW Government that received a State and National Award from the Attorney General’s Department.
  • In December 2015 Janellis partnered with Dexus Property Group to facilitate the launch of CBD Response with key representatives from NSW Police, NSW Police Media and Transport for NSW, held at the Sydney Chamber of Commerce.  The session was held to raise awareness of the new plans and the tools available for business leaders.
  • Janellis consultants have a diverse range of skills and experience across the spectrum of emergency and crisis management and all have over 15+ years experience in working with complex organisations and government agencies.

For more information on our capability and expertise in this area please follow the links below or contact Jonathan Durnall – Jonathan.durnall@janellis.com.au for more information.

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 Business As Usual (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.

Cosgrove leads CBD executives to stirring realisation

I recently wrote about working with Governor-General Peter Cosgrove on defining organisational resilience at the executive and board level. In the article titled ‘What is organisational resilience?’ I told the story of how we collaborated with Peter who had recently retired as General of the Armed Forces.

Working in the still-emerging area of organisational resilience over the past ten years has created unique opportunities to share the thinking with some of the brightest and most experienced people in both public and private sectors.

It was through one of these shared thinking events that we were able to work with then retired General Peter Cosgrove to capture his insights and experience in the complex area of emergency management, specifically for business leaders.

In recalling the diverse range of events, training sessions and exercise activities involved in building organisational resilience, including the ones where Peter worked directly with executive teams with Janellis, there was one stand-out moment that had the greatest impact – Convergence, a National Emergency Summit held in Sydney in November 2006.

A gathering of experts, executives and media

I was standing at the back of the room and Peter was on centre stage flanked by key members of the IAG crisis management team and a panel of experts from police, fire, ambulance, transport and media.

The audience was made up of several hundred executives and subject matter experts, with media crews set-up at the back of the room. The intensity of the discussions taking place was palpable and when Peter spoke, the room was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

The NSW Government had recently launched the Sydney CBD Emergency Subplan and Janellis had also launched our Guidelines for Business to help organisations interpret the plan and build capability.

Many organisations had told us they wanted to see “how it would actually work in practice” so we set about achieving the ambitious goal of developing a hypothetical scenario to test the current plans and the thinking that surrounded them.

The hypothetical scenario

We identified key response agencies that would be involved, critical infrastructure service providers, plus a range of organisations that wanted to be involved and who would be directly impacted. With more than 400,000 people identified within the Subplan zones, the participant numbers kept growing.

In considering who would be the best person to lead this landmark event for Australia, there was no better candidate than then Retired General Peter Cosgrove. Peter spoke at the time of his immediate attraction to working with the business community. This was as a result of his professional experience in emergency situations, as well as his “profound belief that there is a pressing need for the business community to prepare to cope with disaster”. He commented on our “new reality” and the need to factor the capability to respond to major disruptions into the highly necessary column of our busy lives.

The hypothetical involved a gas explosion in a building site within the Sydney CBD and the Subplan included elements of emergency management that were new to Australian organisations, such as SydneyAlert and directions to the public, including ‘shelter-in-place’ and nominated ‘safety’ sites that were different to normal fire evacuation sites.

The discussions were building up to a peak point when it became clear that the unique characteristics of the Sydney CBD would require a significant and coordinated response for an emergency event of this nature.

Stirring realisation for executives

Key questions were being asked about the reliance on security staff from building management to interpret the directions to public, as detailed in the new plan.

Concerns were raised about how quickly the SydneyAlert messages would be sent out and how organisations affected would actually respond to the shelter-in-place command and what did it actually mean. Business leaders wanted to know how reliable the information provided was and how they should respond to incomplete or conflicting information.

Peter mentioned the yin and yang of media being the best source of information and the worst. He spoke of the skill required to ‘cut through the noise’ and to demonstrate critical thinking at key decision points.

As this was the first time the private sector and the public sector had come together in this format, the discussions were exhaustive and we were running well over time. There was a mini-crisis occurring in the kitchen, as hundreds of beef dishes were waiting to come out and the venue manager was getting agitated.

The venue manager was unaware of the magnitude of the discussions underway and I asked him to hold off a little while longer because we had reached a defining moment of dawning where business leaders realised that in an event of this scale within the CBD, they could not expect to get a response from a 000 call and they had to become self-reliant.

The moment the IAG crisis management team reached their [hypothetical] decision to continue to advise staff to ‘shelter-in-place’ and disregard the information from the media was the highlight of the day. The conflicting information presented to them captured the complexity of the decisions they would face and; the need for the most senior and most capable crisis management team, to make decisions that would ensure the safety of many people.

In Peter’s own words:

Australia has some of the best men and women leaders of any country in the world who can deal with business shocks standing on their feet and they have already demonstrated this. However, the new set of challenges needs more work. Some organisations are very advanced and responsible – and there are a lot who are not. In running through the hypothetical today, we can start to imagine the dimensions to the problem.

New role for business leaders

Both the National Emergency Summit and more recent significant CBD events have highlighted the difficulties in moving large groups of people, the need for timely communication and the reliance on key decisions to be made.

Organisations operating within the CBD cannot rely on emergency services agencies and building managers alone to ensure the safety of their staff and the continuity of their business.

The reality is, in an emergency, business leaders may be faced with incomplete or conflicting information. The complexity of an effective response requires the most experienced and capable leaders to make decisions that could affect the safety of many people and the continuity of their business.

Revisions to the Sydney Subplan

Earlier this year, a revision of the 2006 plan was completed and the new Sydney and North Sydney Central Business Districts Evacuation Management Subplan was published on the Emergency NSW website. In recent months, Janellis has facilitated another executive-level exercise to build capability to respond to a range of disruptive events, including an event occurring in the CBD.

While there have been many advances in technology in the past decade and the risk profile continues to change, surprisingly, many of the emergency management issues for organisations operating in the Sydney and North Sydney CBD today are the same issues that were raised at the National Emergency Summit.

Key strategies that are being used and tools that have been developed to address the issues highlighted at Convergence have proven to be effective – many organisations now have a measurable capability in emergency management at the executive level.  

With the expanded zones now including approximately 700,000 people, there is an even greater need to ensure that organisations operating within these zones are self-reliant, that they understand the key components and concepts of the Subplan – at an executive level – and that they have exercised and tested their capability.

Download the full Convergence Report here.


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