When a crisis hits, morale matters: Lessons from the floods

As I read news of Hurricane Sandy approaching the shores of east coast America last night, I was reminded of driving through the flash floods that hit Gloucestershire – and my home town of Cheltenham – in July 2007. It may not have had a backdrop of skyscrapers in Times Square, but it was certainly dramatic, and its impact was felt for months afterwards: homes and businesses were severely damaged, and large areas were left without a water supply for two weeks.

Steelhenge interviewed Chelsea Building Society about how they responded as roads closed, flood defences failed, 1000s were stranded and water supplies cut off, and what lessons they learnt from the experience.

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Cyber Security and Business Continuity: The stats & the steps

National Cyber Security MonthAs the relationships between businesses and customers move increasingly online, last week’s denial-of-service attack on HSBC was a stark reminder of how dangerous cyber attacks have become. ICT continuity has quickly risen to become a top business and policy priority, and essential to safeguarding organisational survival.

Most organisations, regardless of size or sector, are dependent on their ICT infrastructure to deliver products and services. Any disruption can negatively impact operational capability, and by extension, do damage to reputation, profitability and even potential for future growth.

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What makes a crisis ‘a crisis’?

By Dominic Cockram

The origins, causes and kinds of crises are many and varied, but all true crises share certain key features. The mix may change from incident to incident, but in any proportion they combine to create a complex, extremely sensitive and high-risk situation that demands extraordinary management.

An incident becomes a crisis to the organisation if it imposes:

  • An environment of unpredictability and surprise
  • A threat that is both dynamic and volatile
  • Disruption to normal ‘boundaries’
  • Stresses to established lines of accountability
  • Extreme complexity
  • Abnormal urgency and intense pressure on people and systems
  • Media scrutiny

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Toyotal Recall – One Company’s Approach to Two Different Crises

By Dominic Cockram

Yesterday, Toyota announced a recall due to a fault with the window switches in 7.4 million cars – roughly the same number as their total sales for the last financial year. Has the car maker learnt some crisis management lessons from the ‘unintended acceleration’ recall crisis it faced in 2009? As crisis management experts, we take a look at both recalls and see how Toyota has fared so far.

In 2009, Toyota’s reputation took a beating when it was forced to issue a 12-million vehicle recall for problem accelerators that ostensibly caused cars to speed-up suddenly for no apparent cause.  It later materialised that there was no electronic-based cause for ‘unintended acceleration’ in Toyota vehicles, but a prolonged media frenzy, a $16.4 million civil penalty for their mis-handling of the crisis, and a halt to sale and production on certain models had already damaged Toyota’s brand perception and bottom line.

The scale of last week’s announcement provides a unique opportunity to examine one company’s response to two similar events.

 The 2009 Recall: A Media Firestorm Continue reading

Crisis Lesson #5: Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

By Dominic Cockram

Imagine a Premier League team stepping onto the pitch without any training or practice under their belt – survival would be brief and they would get little sympathy. Staying at the top of your game needs practice and the same applies in crisis management. In an environment that is uncertain, complex, pressured and risky, why would any team not want to rehearse doing something they have potentially never done — particularly when the stakes could be their very survival?

Rehearsals need to be credible and as realistic as possible, simulating the complexity of the crisis arena by speed, pressure, uncertainty and clarity of response to survival-challenging decisions.  Simulations not only test the efficacy of plans and procedures, but also compel members of the strategic team to work with people they would otherwise not come across until a crisis hit. Talking about the 7/7 terrorist attacks on London in 2005, the head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch of the Met Police, Peter Clarke, said:

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Crisis Lesson #4 – Listening Leaders

By Dominic Cockram

Crises are stressful. They are characterised by the speed of activity and time-pressured decisions, lack of clear information, and high stakes that can mean life or death, or the survival of your business. There will be noise coming in from all sides, potentially intense media and public interest and you will often be called upon to act above and beyond your comfort zone and day-to-day responsibilities.

As a result, crisis centres are often a noisy, tense and scratchy location where no-one is actually listening to anyone else, let alone listening to the clamour beyond: from staff, the public and the media at large. Continue reading