The practice and art of crisis management has been around for some time, with much of it originating in the media and marketing space around handling image, brand, communications and overall perception with regards to a business and how it is engaged or managing a specific event. Over time, the preparedness and practices have expanded to include operations and other non-marketing disciplines, which in turn has lead to a suite of plans, systems, protocols and advance preparations. That is all well and good but the modern context of crisis management, that is a real ‘crisis’, not an incident, emergency or other such event that you can script it to the nth degree, with long an elaborate responses to specific circumstances, but a real, bonafide crisis…when things real hit the fan; has changed. It has changed so much, with so many working parts, roles, considerations and deadly outcomes, it is more akin to combat or war.
No Battle Plan Survives The First Contact With The Enemy
Whilst any military professional will plan, research, prepare and train in advance, they all know that the enemy is not privy to your plan and is under no obligation to follow your suggested course of action. If anything, they will quickly seek to assess what your proposed plan is and do their damnedest to undermine or defeat your best laid plans. If you stop to read your plan or spend too much time referring to a plan that is failing or written for another time, circumstances or battle, you die, along with many others. Preparation will support a superior decision making process but none the less you have to be nimble, decisive, adaptive and constantly consider your disposition and that of any and all adversary elements, not to mention communicate and gather inputs from relevant sources. Throw in a few amateurs or factors that don’t think like you do, and you have the perfect recipe for chaos.
Plans are great, but it won’t be the plan that fails, shoulders the blame or has to appear in front of the media, shareholders and employees.
A plan is like a temporary hold in rock climbing, all well and good for now but be willing to abandon it for the next available, steady hold as you move up.
The Fog Of War
There comes a point in an engagement or through prolonged fighting where there are just so many inputs, questions, decisions to be made and demands upon you and your time, it feels like you are navigating a fog, both physically and mentally. This sensation may descend upon you, others or your entire team in a slow and graduated process or totally envelope you within seconds of the first barrage. Over time, this sensation can be diminished with training, experience and repetition but it is certainly not a skill or experience that comes with promotion, job titles or appointed responsibilities. There is no short cut for mastering this feeling and its affects.
Drowning, not waiving!
Beware the affects and anticipate it’s influence. Use your resources and don’t get that deep or disorientated in the fog that you suffer from analysis paralysis or outright inability to make a decision. Forget pride, if you can’t handle it, work it out, then get help or reevaluate but if left, you will walk over a cliff and into the abyss when surrounded by such a fog.
Fight for Information
Despite all the modern conveniences and technology [which can actually accelerate the fog of war], all the information and salient details you require to make the right decision and overcome the crisis will not present themselves in nicely wrapped presents awaiting you to open them. You will have to fight for information. You will have to actively and routinely seek to verify, qualify and quantify information, which in turn becomes intelligence, which you can act upon.
If you only make decisions based on information that finds it’s way to you, you will fail. If you only make decisions based upon one version of the facts, you will fail. If you think you have all the information you need, think again, there is always something you don’t know…but the art is to determine if it will negatively affect your outcome if you don’t know it or know it in detail.
All Special Forces commanders learn to continuously conduct battlefield appreciations. So what? What is the actual intent? Are your actions supporting that outcome? In light of the new information or circumstances, what do you need to do in order to remain on task and complete the objective? This and many other questions will be going over and over in a commander’s head. The worst part of it for commercial crisis management is that you have many masters. There are shareholders/investors, employees, consumers, media and many more stakeholders, meaning that you have to conduct an appreciation process, supportive of each of their influence and objectives, simultaneously.
An appreciation process can be outlined in broad terms but it can’t be formulated into a real time, written battle plan. You need to learn it, practice it and become proficient in its application. Surprisingly, I rarely see this or any other decision making process or formulation in any of the countless crisis management plans I have reviewed or supported during a crisis.
The Art Of War
If you Google this title/statement, you will find millions of references, books, interpretations, videos, movies and other media for consumption. The fact remains that the origins and context of the source material was borne from uncertainty, confrontation, violence of action, the likelihood of loss and the influence of adversarial elements. This is war….and it is now the modern art of crisis management.
Neither talent without training nor training without talent can produce the perfect craftsman.
I’m all for plans….to a point. However, survivability in combat is undetermined until one first engages in combat. You may not get a second chance. This is now the reality of commercial or business related crisis. Are you ready?
Your enemies are all around and will strike at a time of their choosing, ready or not.