Sunday, October 9, 2016

Debriefing after Real Crises. The Best Learning

Financial disaster, major accident, cyber attack, massive recall. No simulation or crisis management exercise can ever replace the real thing.  When a real crisis occurs, most aspects of the crisis management plan would be applied, but there will be many more critical issues and intricacies which will appear. 

It goes without saying that the strategy behind a solid crisis management plan is to protect the company’s operations and reputation by providing a secure response.  But the identification of gaps in the response plan can be best discovered after a review of a real crisis situation.

A crisis simulation or exercise concludes with an evaluation and critique where responses are examined and roles and responsibilities reviewed.  The aim of these crisis exercises is to improve the effectiveness of the teams in managing a crisis, at the same time as reviewing the crisis manual and the various human and technical resources that assist the process.

A real event, aside from its serious consequences, can offer greater learnings, particularly related to the complex issues of communication, interactiveness and stress.

Any post-crisis evaluation must be done relatively quickly after the event.  The real value of what has happened, and how crisis teams responded, can be only be learnt while memories are alert to the central issues of the response. 

The purpose of the post-crisis evaluation is not to investigate the cause of the incident nor items such as emergency response, product recall action or security performance, but more how the crisis management team performed in its role.  Was the crisis identified effectively?  Was the team called out efficiently?  Could the team respond immediately and was the response effective?

Post-crisis evaluation is about managing and controlling the corporate issues related to the future of the business.  The following items need to be addressed in the audit:

1.      A narrative of the actual event.  What happened, why and how and what caused the event?

2.      How was the response managed by the crisis management team?  How did the response relate to incident and operational response procedures?  What was the decision making process based on?

3.     Were human and technical resources adequate?  Where did they fail and how could they have been improved?

4.      Is the organisation still at threat from the problem or similar problems?

5.      What were the unintended consequences that came out of the original incident?

6.      Were there any barriers to communication?

7.      Were all stakeholders advised effectively?  If not, what were the problems?

8.      Was there sufficient co-operation with outside agencies (emergency services, government, etc.)?

9.      Were the plan, manual and procedures useful?  Where could they be improved?

10.    Were human resource issues and employee communication handled efficiently?

11.    Were there any barriers to crisis response from senior management?

12.    Were legal issues dealt with efficiently? 

13.    Was the spokesperson’s role effective?  Were messages continual and consistent?

14.    How was business continuity and recovery managed?  What were the problems?

15.   What has been put in place in the short term and the long term to prevent this crisis from happening again?

This post-evaluation needs to be carried out by either outside consultants or a senior management team and preferably not by the crisis management team.  It is designed to improve operations, decision making, plans, skills and to ensure the crisis management team has done its job effectively.  

The post-evaluation team needs to interview the crisis management team, management executives, employees and external personnel/contractors involved in the crisis response.   

A post-evaluation project is no easy task.  While it has to be done as soon as possible after the crisis has occurred, it needs time for investigation, review and context. The project team needs the support of the Chief Executive and senior management, and commitment has to be given to ensure that the learnings from across the business can be incorporated in the overall crisis managing planning process.  This process ensures continual improvement and further development of a best practice response.  

The learnings of the post-crisis evaluation of a real event should be made available for training and response reference to the crisis management team.