Posted: 17 Dec. 2018 5 min. read

Building a strategic capability in crisis management

A new Standard in crisis management calls for a more strategic approach to the discipline. PD CEN/TS 17091 “Crisis Management – Building a Strategic Capability” is a refinement and expansion of a previous British Standard (BS 11200:2014 Crisis management, Guidance and good practice) and a welcome intervention designed to help organisations develop this important capability.

We highlight four specific areas where the new Standard advances good practice and provides more detailed guidance:

  • Crisis management as a strategic capability
  • Crisis leadership
  • Situational awareness and information management
  • Crisis communication

Crisis Management as a strategic capability

The Standard’s new expanded title - ‘building a strategic capability’ - is significant. We highlight four reasons why.

First, when things go wrong, and inevitably they will at some point, responding effectively will help keep the organisation on track. Research published by Aon and Pentland Analytics (Reputation Risk in the Cyber Age – The Impact on Shareholder Value, August 2018) shows that companies that effectively respond to a crisis will out perform those that don’t in terms of shareholder value. Organisations that see crisis management as a strategic discipline, are more likely to respond effectively when a crisis occurs.

Second, the core principles of good crisis management can be used to help leaders successfully prepare for and deliver strategic organisational change. When an organisation goes through a period of significant change, transformation or undertakes a critical project, it will be under more scrutiny and is more vulnerable to even small issues turning into a full-blown crisis. Regulators, investors and other stakeholders can quickly lose confidence in both the strategy and the management team - activist investors may seek to change direction, consumers may have less loyalty to the new products or services. 

Third, while crisis planning is important, so is being agile and adaptive. Crises often require bold gestures and a willingness to change at the most senior level. This is reflected in the Standard’s updated definition of a crisis:  ‘Unprecedented or extraordinary event or situation that threatens an organization and requires a strategic, adaptive, and timely response in order to preserve its viability and integrity'.

Finally, the Standard helpfully answers the question we see so many organisations grapple with: ‘who should own crisis preparedness?’ It says the role should be held by the Board or Executive Team.

Crisis leadership

We see more detailed emphasis and guidance on crisis leadership. The Standard tackles the complexities of leading a team under stress and the attributes of an effective crisis leader. This is a welcome summary, which can be practically applied and complements the growing academic literature on the subject, which has boomed in the wake of high-profile resignations following recent crises.

Training executives in the art and practicalities of leading in a crisis is rarely on their curriculum – but it should be, as this could be the most difficult and important task they have to perform for the organisation, and in their career. Failing to do so leaves them and their organisation vulnerable.

Situational awareness and information management

The importance and complexity of situational awareness and effective information management is underestimated too often: we have seen it make or break many crisis responses, real and simulated. The Standard recognises it as a core pillar of response and has placed greater emphasis on it throughout. It isn’t too prescriptive in its guidance on how organisations should actually implement and execute it effectively. Leaving this open to interpretation encourages organisations to put in place processes to support this critical element of the response that are tailored to their own needs. Online tools can increasingly support in this area.

Crisis communication

Previous Standards provided a limited view on crisis communication, primarily focusing on media management. The media is just one of many stakeholders a crisis communication strategy needs to address. The new Standard better recognises this and will help people, especially those not in communications roles, to understand the reach and impact of the communication strategy to the response.

The Standard also provides more detailed guidance for managing and using social media. It outlines key considerations for planning and suggests that building an effective social media capability in ‘peacetime’ can help a company be more proactive when a crisis hits. This will help organisations that treat social media as a new and emerging ‘nice to have’ to view it as a critical pillar of crisis communication.

Final thoughts

Building a strategic capability in crisis management makes good sense. It can help an organisation continue to meet its strategic objectives and build a stronger reputation with its stakeholders when a challenging situation arises. This capability encompasses the key aspects of: organisation, governance and leadership in a crisis; coordination, situation awareness and information management within the organisation and with external stakeholders; and timely, frequent and transparent communication to all stakeholders.

Investing in this capability will protect and support Board and Executive members in moments that matter most, when the reputation, financial viability and very existence of the organisation is on the line. This timely new Standard reinforces this and strengthens the guidance available to organisations to build a truly strategic capability. 

Read more on the BSI website about PD CEN/TS 17091 “Crisis Management – Building a Strategic Capability”

Sign up for the latest updates

Key contact

Rick Cudworth

Rick Cudworth

Partner, Crisis and Resilience

Rick has over 25 years’ industry-leading experience in Crisis Management and Resilience. He has been interim Group Head of Resilience for two global banks has supported and facilitated executive leadership in responding to crisis events. He is a recognised industry leader in his field and Chair of the British Institution Technical Committee for Continuity and Resilience.

Abigail Worsfold

Abigail Worsfold

Associate Director

Abigail is a crisis management and organisational resilience expert with over ten years specialist experience. She has extensive experience of designing and delivering global crisis preparedness programmes including advising organisations on their crisis management structures and procedures so they reflect the culture and values of the organisation. Her particular area of expertise is developing crisis management team skills through group training sessions, one-to-one coaching and crisis exercises. Abigail works extensively with organisations in high-risk, operational sectors including energy and resources, manufacturing and aerospace and defence. She has facilitated crisis training and exercises in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia Pacific often involving multiple teams, locations and functions. Prior to joining Deloitte, Abigail worked in local authority emergency planning, where she developed experience in multi-agency major incident, counter-terrorism and mass fatality planning and response.