Thursday, February 7, 2013

A crisis they said would never happen

Consider this scenario.

"It’s 3.30 am and a dull, crimson glow throbs on the black horizon.  The CEO looks hard across the city at his plant - one of the world’s biggest.  The company boasts  leadership in its field.  He is now wide awake.  Fifteen minutes ago, his General Manager Operations was on the phone: “There’s been an explosion.  It’s blown half the site out and some of our people have been killed.” 

He can see the empty freeway filling now with countless emergency vehicles - the flashing blue, orange and red lights trailing towards the city in a morbid celebration.  Both his home and mobile phones are ringing.  The leak of deadly gas is spreading to the many crowded cottages surrounding the plant.  This is the crisis they said wouldn’t happen here."

How typical is this scenario.  A successful corporation.  A known brand.  Now faced with a catastrophe that in just a few hours could reach the magnitude of an international disaster.  The nature and the scale of the problem is almost impossible to recover from.  There are very few, if any, strategic options.  And while their corporate business planning and marketing processes are the most sophisticated, the decision-making plan to save its soul may have been left too late.

Sounds like the Titanic or the Costa Concordia, doesn’t it?  Echoes of the BP oil spill.  The Lance Armstrong cycling crisis.  A stark reminder of the twin towers.  There is a familiar ring - a fatal flaw in response planning. 

It is astonishing, and ultimately unforgivable come the day, how many businesses and other organisations still say It can’t happen here.  Generally, we live in a society that does not discuss crisis. The It can’t happen here syndrome is everywhere. Too many organisations are simply not prepared for the worst case scenario. 

So it comes as a painful shock when they are confronted by a crisis head-on.  Inevitably, they can neither manage the situation, nor cope with the consequences.

Yet, it takes years to build a successful organisation, and it takes only minutes for a crisis to pull it apart.

And, while it’s a fact of life that success does not happen overnight, the corollary is that failure often does. Massive damage can be done to corporate reputation and brand, sometimes for ever.

We believe that every organisation needs a framework for managing the risk of a critical disruption and to build organisational resilience in its crisis management and recovery planning.

Early 2013 is an important time to review your readiness and resilience to face the worst case scenario.