Part Two – Crisis Simulations and a Real Life Challenge
Part One of this essay closed with a discussion of realistic and challenging training, which we will continue to explore here.
Two common training methods are tabletop exercises and simulations. Tabletops allow players to talk through scenarios, generate thought, and identify areas needing attention. What they don’t do is provide experience. Physically performing simulated tasks adds more value and also provides experience (Agnes, 2018). While we may not be able to influence the external events surrounding a crisis, we do control our response (Rubens, 2020) and becoming crisis ready involves developing, embedding and honing the right organization-wide response capabilities.
Simulations offer a powerful way to test, fine-tune and enhance these capabilities.
What is involved in a successful crisis simulation?
Successful crisis simulations require participation by leaders from all disciplines. Team members behave differently when the boss is involved (Boin & Lagadec, 2000). That is not to say every senior leader must be present during the entire simulation. But they need to be available to make decisions in accordance with standard company practices.
Some leaders might say, “I get it. We need to be adaptable and creative. But do we really need to run simulations just to experience some ‘gotcha’ moments? We can make it work when we have to.” In response, I offer the following story.
A real-world example
A multi-national company had ten employees in a country in North Africa during the Arab Spring in 2010-2011. As civil unrest increased, the company decided to evacuate its employees. The capital city airport was in chaos. Most commercial flights were canceled, stranding many, but the company was able to charter a plane to pick up its employees.
The company’s senior manager in the country was informed by airport security officials that the plane, due to arrive in two hours, would be allowed 30 minutes to load and refuel. After that it had to leave, regardless of who was on board.
The security officials then added a final caveat: each person boarding the plane would have to pay the equivalent of $10,000 USD in cash. Anyone who did not pay would not be allowed to board the plane. The manager now had approximately two hours to procure $100,000 or risk not getting the employees—to include himself—safely out of the country.
Time was critical and fleeting. He needed to speak directly to the company’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) so that she, or whomever she authorized, could immediately call a bank in the capital and authorize the disbursement of $100,000 via wire transfer.
What the manager didn’t need was to reach a mid-level officer in the Financial Department and hear something like: “Okay, I’m about to send you an email with a PDF attached. It’s a disbursement request form and we’ll need all ten people to fill it out and sign it digitally before we can do anything. Send the ten files back to me and we’ll get on it. Oh, and it’s late afternoon here and people are already leaving work. It might take a while if we have to recall anyone who already left.”
The good news was that due to the level of training and internal empowerment within this company, the manager was able to call his boss who was then able to promptly transfer the call directly to the CFO. The CFO, in turn, immediately made arrangements for the funds to be disbursed and even got the bank to transport the cash to the airport and deliver it personally to the manager. Thankfully, all ten employees were safely evacuated.
How would something like this play out for your organization?
If your organization were in a similar situation where time was of the essence in such a dire way, would your team members be in the position to act that quickly and effectively?
What if the CFO was unavailable? Suppose she had just gone wheels up on a flight to Tahiti for a well-deserved vacation and would not be available for another 14 hours; then what? What if the manager’s call for help came during the middle of the night at the headquarters’ location? Do you think the process would have been as successful?
These are some examples of the types of important scenarios you can practice during a simulation. They’re easily scaled for the size, resources, and capabilities of the organization receiving the training. And, as the example shows, they represent real life.
Prior to that day at the airport I doubt the company ever imagined facing that type of situation. But it became a reality they had to confront. While no one may have foreseen this example specifically, the presumption of needing to wire an excessive amount of money in a dire emergency and not having the executive team immediately available is a very realistic and scalable scenario that benefits from being posed and played out.
The value of a crisis simulation
Simulations are not routine fire drills and they’re more than “gotcha” moments. They’re opportunities to experience unforeseen challenges in a learning environment and to foster effective thought processes and skills as a team. As Elizabeth Dole noted while she was the president of the American Red Cross, the middle of a crisis is not the time to establish new relationships or to try out new ways of doing things (Augustine, 1995). It’s also not the time to learn that you may not be able to make it work after all.
Executives cannot ignore crises or wish them away. Developing sensitivity, awareness, and the authority to act at every level within an organization creates the opportunity to prevent or mitigate problems before they escalate (Rubens, 2020). Simulations that enhance cultural awareness and capabilities are a key step on the path to becoming crisis ready.
Crisis simulations can help you gain buy-in for your crisis ready initiatives
We started this two-part journey by looking at why crisis ready initiatives are ignored. As we’ve seen, some reasons include the belief that existing ways of managing crises will suffice; a perceived immunity to crisis; reluctance to empower subordinates to act and communicate early to prevent a crisis; and the enterprise lacking the resources to undertake such an initiative (Agnes, 2018). Crisis simulations offer a unique and realistic way to test processes, expand understanding and empower the right mindset.
True crisis readiness requires senior leadership to display both an understanding of why it’s important, as well as a willingness to devote assets to improve organizational capabilities. By keeping leadership informed and aware of crisis readiness’ overall value to the organization, crisis managers are better positioned to pursue training programs with appropriate levels of support—and crisis simulations offer a powerful way to experience that value first-hand, supporting your efforts to gain buy-in and not let your crisis ready initiatives go ignored.
Rubens, D. (2020, March). Corporate risk and crisis management. Deltar Ofqual-Regulated Level 5 Management Award in ‘Corporate Risk and Crisis Management.’ Program conducted by the Institute of Strategic Risk Management, London, UK.