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Key Elements for Building a Crisis Management Capability

As crises grow in kind and intensity, organizations need to take an intelligence-gathering and constant-monitoring approach to building their crisis management competency. This largely cyclical mode of lifecycle crisis management tends to be more strategy-oriented than the tactics-first approach implicit in the popular pre-crisis, crisis, and post-crisis models. For instance, the British crisis management standard, BS 11200, adopts a fairly cyclical framework that includes the following stages:

For instance, the British crisis management standard, BS 11200, adopts a fairly cyclical framework that includes the following stages:

  • Anticipate. Identify potential crises.
  • Assess. Analyze evidence and make judgments about potential impact and actions required.
  • Prepare. Ensure the readiness of the organization to face high-probability crises as well as crises that are not foreseen.
  • Respond. Act quickly in an informed manner.
  • Recover. Sustain crisis response into a longer term, strategic effort to recover reputation and value.
  • Review and learn. Analyze and reflect on the experience of validations, testing, and exercising, the management of crises, and the experience of others in managing crises.

Looking closer, the first three (largely pre-crisis) stages all point to the need for effective crisis management planning, a tacit recognition that organizations might no longer think they’re immune to disaster, but they don’t often act with sufficient urgency to achieve crisis management preparedness.

That level of preparedness only comes via a best-practice crisis management plan (CMP), a response document, focused on the provision of a generic response capability. More specifically, the CMP should be as concise as possible so as to ensure that it is exercised and readily understood, should a crisis break out. The document itself will typically lay out the following information:

  • Who has authority and responsibility for key decisions and actions in a crisis
  • Key contact details: how staff are to be contacted in the event of a crisis
  • Crisis communications (internal and external)
  • The activation mechanism for a crisis and how it works in practice
  • Details of levels of response across the organization (i.e. who is to be contacted for what level of a problem) and flow chart showing the sequence of actions
  • The structure and role of the CMT and what is expected of it
  • Where the CMT is to meet (with alternative locations) and what equipment and support are required
  • Key templates (such as CMT meeting agenda and logbook)
  • Log-keeping guidance
  • A situation report template which is to be used across the organization

Another key element of building a crisis management capability at your organization is constituting the crisis management team. That task begins with selecting a Chair who will take the lead in executing the plan itself – as for the remainder of the core crisis management team, standards, like BS 11200, recommend senior managers from the company’s most important business units: Finance, HR, Operations, IT, Communications, in addition to specialized roles like Log Keeper, Support, etc.

Among the duties ascribed to the CMT Chair is planning for decision making in crisis, in other words, “the process that leads to the selection of a course of action for more than one alternative option.” Crisis decision making matters, because when crisis actually strikes, it moves quickly. Quick decisions are required, with those decisions being made in a high-stakes environment (possibly the highest), where information is limited, stress is acute, and scrutiny is intense.

Teams rarely make decisions in those conditions, which is why CMT Chairs must rehearse crisis decision making with teams. Recommendations for improving the effectiveness of strategic decision making in a crisis include:

  • Implementing, at an organizational level, policies, structures (teams and roles), plans, processes, and tools to support the organization’s crisis management capability as a whole and the CMT, in particular.
  • Gaining experience in crisis decision-making environments as individuals and teams.
  • Training CMT members in the use of decision techniques to reduce the effect of uncertainty on their cognitive abilities.
  • Recognizing the signs of weak decision making, including a failure to challenge evidence, assumptions, methods, logic, and conclusions, and the adoption of measures to provide alternative perspectives.

Indeed, training members in the use of crisis decision techniques to reduce the effect of uncertainty on their cognitive abilities provides valuable trial and error learning, in a relatively controlled setting. This training helps to ensure that all team members are comfortable performing the tasks assigned to them and even going off-script as the situation demands.

Of course, planning for crisis decision making is only one element of building a best-practice crisis management capability.


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