Lessons from the Crises of 2020

PwC recently released its annual #crisis survey. It is interesting to read to see what executives think they got right (and wrong) over the past tumultuous year. For leaders, it is a chance to look back as you look forward. Some worrying highlights:

- 95% of business leaders report that their crisis management capabilities need improvement. At least they are being honest. No one is perfect, and so I worry about the 5% who fail to acknowledge the need to improve at least as much as I do for the others.

- More than 30 percent of respondents to this year’s survey did not have a designated core crisis response team in place. I hope that this number drops significantly in 2021. After this year, there is no excuse not to have a team picked and practiced in what to do when adversity hits.

There's good news, too:

- 80 percent agreed (32 percent strongly) that their response to the [Covid19] crisis took into consideration the physical and emotional needs of their employees. I have seen this as well. Executive grasped the human factors, perhaps because they and their families experienced this trauma alongside the rest.

- 7/10 organizations reported planning to increase their investment in building #resilience. This is a positive, forward-looking finding as resilience has to be built day-by-day in order to be drawn upon in crisis. Getting it right means a lot more than doubling down on your #EAP. And see my quibble with resilience below.

For those struggling with what to do, my National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) colleagues and I aren't hard to find:) Neither are many others with pragmatic, proven approaches to preparedness and response. Getting started is neither complicated nor wildly expensive.

My issues with the survey? Here are three:

One of three pillars is "breaking down silos." I agree that a fragmented organization cannot adapt synchronously, particularly in the heat of a crisis. However, intelligently connecting silos is a smarter strategy because specialized functions exist for good reason and attempts at "breaking down" inevitably generate resistance. To smooth the path to change, acknowledge the need for deep expertise AND the benefits of robust connectivity among those experts across the enterprise.

There is no mention of #crisisleadership. This is a distinct set of skills from #crisismanagement. Both are essential for readiness for crisis and should be complementary in practice. Leadership is about the human factors. It involves sense-making and meaning-making. Crisis management gets you through the turbulent now while crisis leadership looks forward to what comes next.

While I appreciate the discussion of resilience, it remains an ill-defined term. Organizations that want to improve their resilience need to define clearly what it means for them and then bake resilience building into daily procedures and operations. Defining it should get down to the details, such as, "At Acme Widgets, a resilient call center is..." Only with that level of specificity can you put in place the plans to ensure that your teams can bounce forward through adversity.

The great benefit of surveys such as this one is that they provide a snapshot of where we are along with the possibilities for where we can go next. The appreciation of crisis tends to fade quickly. That would be dangerous in this case as we live in turbulent times where the next disruption is likely not too far around the corner.

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