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Teneo Insights Series UK Takeaways: Navigating the Age of Crisis – How Leaders Can Forge Resilience in the Face of Uncertainty

March 28, 2022
By Juliette Kayyem

Teneo Senior Advisor Juliette Kayyem, faculty chair of the Homeland Security and Security and Global Health Projects at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, CNN national security analyst and Pulitzer Prize finalist, joined our resident crisis management expert Alisa Charkova, Senior Vice President, Teneo Risk EMEA, to discuss the importance of ‘spending your pennies left of boom’ and how to begin investing in your crisis preparedness today.

Juliette is also the author of ‘The Devil Never Sleeps’, a defining book on crisis leadership that will help businesses prepare for and navigate the age of disasters. Read book excerpt here.


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Current Trends: Businesses Unprepared for a Crisis-Dense World

COVID-19 has really tested organisations worldwide. Are you agile enough? Resilient enough? Does your leadership team come through in a crisis?  Are you able to support your people? Underpinning this global challenge comes the relentless drumbeat of the climate crisis, consisting of floods, wildfires, heatwaves and more. Cyberattacks have gone mainstream. As we exit the global pandemic, heightened geopolitical conflicts and sanctions have redrawn borders and company footprints in weeks, and have sent the crisis cells back into the war rooms. According to our experts, here are the factors that make crisis readiness hard to achieve:

  1. Obsolete plans and processes: Your Crisis Management Plan, underpinned by your Crisis Communications Plan and Crisis HR Plan are the trio of simple, current documents that become the governing approach to any crisis. What you do, how you talk about it and how you come through on your duty of care to people are what will get you through.
  2. Siloed resilience functions: A crisis isn’t a standalone event. It is a spectrum that begins with risk management, issue identification and escalation. It then includes the active management of a materialised risk, like an emergency or crisis. ERM, Crisis Management, Crisis Communications and Business Continuity belong together under one resiliency umbrella.
  3. Minimal crisis HR functions: In a crisis, it is your duty to account for your people, ascertain their safety and provide support. These processes are no longer just a safety requirement for the extractives industry: every company must be able to activate their Crisis HR systems in response to any crisis with a human impact.
  4. Lack of muscle memory in crisis leaders: Excellent leadership teams in peacetime do not always become the crisis leaders your organisation needs to survive. Crisis leadership excellence takes working together through crises, real or simulated, until the pathways and bonds are in place to open up the space for the agility and creativity a crisis requires.
  5. Risks of integrity: Systemic risks of integrity are a true crisis for an organisation. If your business has issues with diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, gender-based pay disparity, inability to uphold climate and human rights values and pledges, inadvertent support of extremist organisations or armed and cyber conflict, then your business has a crisis.


The Lifecycle of a Crisis – Journey Through the Boom

The Trigger Phase/Left of Boom

  • Assume that it is a crisis and practice ‘prudent internal overreaction’ – The trigger phase is never conclusively a crisis, which is why it is so important to mobilise the relevant teams early on and stand down as necessary.
  • Crisis objective setting – It is essential to set your crisis objective immediately after the initial situation assessment. Are you aiming to maintain trust, mount a victim-centred response, or focus on securing the commitment of your employees? This will help prioritise your resources and allow to bypass the freeze-flight-fight response.
  • Begin scenario planning at the outset of a crisis – Leaving scenario planning until after the first set of responses will cause you to lose control and turn the crisis war room into a reactive machine. Basic scenario planning such as ‘How might this get worse? How will we know it is getting worse? What are the triggers to move into a different response posture?’ is one of the first tasks that a crisis leader must delegate.

The Peak Crisis Phase/Immediately after Boom

  • Use the 4Cs – This is the gold standard for a response sequence in a crisis: concern for those affected (show proportionate concern); control (what are you doing immediately to rectify how you’re working with the authorities and regulators, ways you are limiting the impact to your customers); commitment (your mid/long-term plan to reduce the chance of this occurring again) and, where appropriate, context (explain the complexity of the environment and the specifics of your business), but do so with care, as context is often used as an excuse or permission to fail.
  • Take full advantage of feedback loops – Use monitoring and listening of every source to assess how your response is landing with your stakeholders and go back to course correct if necessary.
  • Continue to scenario plan – As you gain more information, the scenarios for which to prepare will evolve. Do not get stuck working off scenarios that have not and likely won’t materialise.

The De-escalation Phase/ Post Boom

  • Shed the ‘back to normal’ mentality – It is never ‘back to normal’ after a crisis. As an organisation, you are now in a position of reduced trust that will require rebuilding. A business that immediately resumes business as usual activity and behaviours increases the chances of similar patterns emerging when the next crisis comes. It is important to make time for ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ debriefs. A ‘hot’, or immediate short debrief, helps address ways of working challenges, so that they do not impact the next phase of the incident. ‘Cold’ debriefs, or ‘lessons learned’ reviews, are longer sessions held after some time has passed to jointly assess and improve systemic resilience challenges and feed successes back into the risk management process, thus completing the cycle.
  • Retain paper trails – A well-documented crisis is not only a legal requirement, but the best way to close gaps and learn.
The views and opinions in these articles are solely of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Teneo. They are offered to stimulate thought and discussion and not as legal, financial, accounting, tax or other professional advice or counsel.

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