Sunday, June 20, 2010

Demise of crisis management planning in top corporations

BP's massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; the deaths of leading mining executives, all on one plane in Africa, and the resignation of a major retail CEO in the wake of sexual harassment claims - the crises keep coming. And the management of these critical events is under the microscope. What is the brain of these corporations doing to ensure crises will be managed?

BP continues to struggle with the crisis management of, and recovery from, one of the world's worst environmental spills. This is long after the global learnings that came from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and the devastating Piper Alpha explosion in the North Sea. The BP oil spill carries with it major safety concerns related to response capability, ongoing communication problems, particularly from the CEO, and an early loss of stakeholder trust from the general public to the US President. An extraordinary response from a company that in 1989 was at the forefront of international crisis management planning.

The deaths in a plane crash of the Sundance Resources mining executive Board in remote Africa is a tragic crisis. Debate continues regarding the gigantic risk of so many key personnel flying together on one aircraft. Not only a loss of life but a serious loss of intellectual capital and corporate leadership. This event occurring only months after the catastrophic Polish air crash that killed 96 VIP passengers, most of whom were part of the Polish Government, including the President. Both these disasters needed to have been mitigated against in pre-crisis planning.

Sexual harassment, another high-level threat to corporations, is at the centre of the shock resignation of retail giant, David Jones CEO, Mark McInnes. He acknowledged that he committed "serious errors of judgement". The resignation led to $81 million being wiped off the market value of David Jones. As The Australian newspaper reported: "The resignation and the reasons given are unprecedented in corporate Australia". A parallel to this is the recent top-profile resignation of the CEO and President of Penguin Canada, David Davidar, who quit his post and later admitted that the publisher had sacked him after a sexual harassment case was filed against him by a former female colleague.

High impact, low probability critical events are a reality, and high-performing corporations must be prepared to face these events with a proactive and well-rehearsed strategic crisis management response. This requires a continual review of best-practice crisis management planning and should be an essential ingredient of an organisation's corporate governance.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cutting crisis management chaos

Deciding on the structure and composition of a crisis team on the day of a crisis simply does not work. Effective performance during a crisis relies very much on team members' prior understanding of their roles and responsibilities in responding to an escalating event.

Organisations that know what to do, who is going to do it, and in what sequence, are more effective during a crisis. A prepared organisation can respond faster and better with reduced decision making time. Cooperation between team members enhances effectiveness and this experience through pre-training, discussion and planning will increase response.

A crisis team that is used to working together under clear leadership moves into their operational function with a more positive approach particularly in chaotic situations. Shared knowledge of the team organisation produces a capability far greater than the sum of individual members.