In her latest webinar, Sungard Availability Services’ Dr Sandra Bell, Head of Resilience Consulting (Europe), shares some tips and tricks, learnt the hard way through practical experience, on how to survive the crisis hot seat.
Throughout Dr Bell’s career she has found herself leading crisis management teams on many occasions and has developed five practical Crisis Hot Seat survival tactics, which she explains in more detail in the webinar:
Tactic 1: Control the temperature and comfort of your seat
Make yourself comfortable
Dr Bell explains there are three typical default Hot Seats, none of which are conducive to managing a crisis. You may be blindfolded with your hands tied behind your back, be completely alone or in the wrong place.
This is your seat – just as you would adjust the seat, the mirrors and the heating in your car so that you can drive safely and comfortably - understand that you can also do the same with your Crisis Hot Seat. Don’t accept the manufacturer’s default setting!
Keep an open mind
Most Hot Seat occupants hear about their new role over the telephone or by email or text more often than not at an inopportune moment from a person at their wit’s end. That first conversation is important but remember:
- 60% of what you will hear at the start of a crisis is almost certainly wrong - don’t take everything at face value.
- 55% of communication occurs through facial expressions, 38% through inflection, and only 7% occurs through words. This means that some technologies (eg email or phone) lose a lot of the intentions behind a communication.
Tactic 2: Surround your seat with capable people and relevant information
Crisis response is first and foremost a team effort – not a solo sport. It most certainly needs a leader, but the leader can’t do everything by him/herself. You therefore need to assemble a trusted capable team around you and find out what’s going on – fast.
Having assembled the team you need them to understand (and accept) their primary objective: To manage the crisis in a way that limits, damage, increases the confidence of customers and stakeholders; and reduces recovery time and cost.
Your objective is not:
- To tell people how to do their job
- Interfere in the running parts of the business that have not been affected
- Work out why it happened in the first place – there will be plenty of time for that later.
Tactic 3: coordinate, communicate and delegate
At the start of a crisis you don’t have all the information you would like at the beginning of your journey. This is normal – it’s not ideal – but accept it – and work backwards from the end state.
Define clearly what conditions need to be met for you to be able to declare the crisis over and then define what needs to be in place for that to happen.
Frequently something tangible is broken/destroyed/disrupted such as the building, the IT system or the power. These are tangible and easily understood by all and therefore define the steps to remedy those first.
Next, drive your communications from those milestones. This means that you are control of both the fix and the communication cycle.
Tactic 4: recognise that the situation is stressful and deploy coping strategies
Decision-making under stress
You are in an unknown situation. Clients or customers may already have suffered significant losses or harm. The media is knocking at the doors – physical and virtual. The regulators may be particularly interested and the specter of a large fine may be emerging. Everyone is looking at you for an answer!
It is easy to get overwhelmed or retreat to the detail under such stress – but if you understand and accept what happens to your brain when stressed then you can deploy coping strategies to get you through:
Overcoming the effects of stress
The first thing to suffer is your attention span. To stop yourself getting diverted make sure that you:
- Clearly define the desired end state
- Keep coordinating meetings short and follow a standard agenda
- Focus on what needs to be done, trusting your team to work out how and report back when they have carried out the task.
Your ability to learn will be severely reduced. Don’t try to learn a whole new discipline in the middle of a crisis – you employ experts – use them.
Your short-term memory will be shot so keep logs!
Your perception will be affected. Normally it is possible to hold seven ideas in our heads at one time – but under stress this can reduce to two or three. This means that it is easy to fixate on a single solution and ignore the evidence that that says that it is inappropriate.
Finally, you will have trouble with word finding so don’t try to craft communications within crisis management meetings – feed your communications team the facts and let them take care of it for you.
Tactic 5: don’t stay in the hot seat any longer than is absolutely necessary.
- Keep focused on your end state. When you have met the required criteria, start to transition to business continuity and recovery.
- When the operational picture shows that you have had some success in regaining control, let people know – communicate! Stand down people when they are no longer needed (they will also be suffering stress).
- Have a team planning for the return to BAU from early on in the crisis.
- Give your teams a pat on the back and thank them for their efforts. Recognise the unique challenges you have been facing.
Sungard Availability Services works with individuals and teams from a wide variety of industries to prepare them for the Crisis Hot Seat. If you’ve found this article interesting, you may also be interested in this article which details the successful handling of a real-life crisis by News UK.