Pick a team sport. Any sport. Your team gathers to prepare for the upcoming season. In your first meeting, your coach hands each of you a highly detailed playbook. He reads aloud each page to your team. The playbook details:
- Goals for the season and winning strategies
- Your team’s hierarchy: captains, starters, matchups against various opponents, backups, etc.
- On-field expectations: how players should call plays, anticipate, adjust, communicate
- A “matchup” assessment of the team’s strengths and weaknesses versus each opponent that might be faced during the season
The coach tells you that pre-season practice will focus only on complete study of the playbook. As the season nears, tests will be administered to gauge comprehension of the playbook. After each in-season game, the playbook may be adjusted to capture any new key lessons from wins and losses and subsequent practice time will ensure comprehension of those playbook changes.
Before the meeting adjourns, you ask, “Coach, when will we practice drills? Are there any team chemistry-building exercises? Can we have an intra-squad scrimmage to practice some of these plays?”
“The playbook,” Coach replies, “has all of the answers. Know the playbook and you will know victory.”
Sadly, this mirrors the crisis management approach for many organizations. The fixation on the crisis plan provides a false sense of confidence and complacency, in my view. And I’m not alone. Here are two recent articles that expand on my point:
- The Economist: “Not up in the air: Risk management lessons from the volcanic ash cloud”
- Harvard Business Review Blogs: “Don’t Get Distracted By Your Plan”
If you agree that training/drills need to improve the behaviors and skills of the crisis management individuals, rather than only test plan comprehension, check out one of my earlier blog posts: Crisis Management Training: Choose Wisely.
I also want to make clear that I’m not anti-plan. A well-constructed crisis plan is a critical element toward a successful capability. But it’s only a piece of the pie.
For fun, I’m including a poll with two draconian choices. You know my vote. I’d love to know which one you’d choose and if you care to elaborate, please use the comments section below.