Quick – what’s worse: having no crisis plan, or having an unwieldy crisis plan?
Consider that the latter is worse for an organization that lets its fate ride solely on the contents of that plan, without cultivating an experienced team to execute its clunky contents. In other words: it’s a bad plan to trust only a plan; it’s disastrous if the written plan isn’t actionable.
Crisis managers should review of their written plans against this checklist of worst practices to see if a re-write is due:
- A dense table of contents. When a crisis strikes and a team is under some immediate pressure, they’ll want to crack open a plan’s first page and feel reassured. Is that possible when staring at a multi-page, Roman numeric list with chapters, sub-heads and appendices? Instead, scrap the textbook format in favor of a graphically simple “How To Use This Plan” which puts each subsequent page in context.
- Several opening pages of introduction. Far too many crisis plans feature long-winded introductions, usually with an eye toward limiting the plan’s scope of responsibility (thereby covering the plan owner’s posterior). If an introduction requires more than a few sentences, the organization and plan master probably need to align their crisis management beliefs before the plan is ever used. Likewise, an ample definitions page is typically an omen of a poorly written plan, filled with jargon.
- Many unfamiliar roles and titles. It’s fine to assign roles and titles to a handful of crisis management leaders (like the well-recognized Incident Commander post in emergency management). But don’t get carried away. Some crisis plans assign too many rigid roles to support staff, with titles ripped from Dungeons & Dragons. Support staffers sometimes spend too much time obsessing over their new designation/title, instead of driving actions against deadlines. It’s better for the crisis plan to direct what is needed and when. The who can be assigned as needed by the leaders, who can also ensure deadlines are met.
- Actions described through long narratives. A crisis management plan must direct action. It shouldn’t tell “the story of crisis management.” Yet, that’s exactly what happens when plans are written in a Herman Melville narrative. Better to:
- Replace long, passive sentences with brief directives
- Consider bullet-point phrases
- A one-size-fits-all approach. Crises, like storm clouds, are unique in shape, content and color and you can never truly predict their full impact until they pass. Each crisis requires a customized level of resource, strategic oversight and tactical support. Yet many crisis plans rigidly prescribe approach to every crisis. You may not need to command a well-stocked Situation Room with your full Jedi High Council right away. Your plan should favor a modular approach that can scale resources up and down as needed.
- Granular action checklists. Some crisis plans suffer from completism – prescribing every precise consideration when a certain scenario springs to life. This approach is counterproductive and based in naiveté. No matter how strong your clairvoyance, it’s impossible to predict every single need when advance-drafting a scenario plan. It’s wise to provide top-line strategic and tactical considerations, but the plan must allow flexibility to deal with unpredictable (inevitable) plot twists.
- A related risk-management post by Thomas Bragg touches on this subject when he discusses “formal” and “informal” – which I take to mean “strict” vs. “flexible.”
Rather than break my own house rule on brevity of posts, I’ll provide impediments 7-12 in the next few days. Until then, please feel free to comment, question or challenge this content in the comments below.
Update: Part 2 is available here.
Update (Mar. 16): These articles were also posted on Ragan.com.