Why Australian governments and businesses constantly fall short when managing a crisis

The-Drill-Crisis-Simulator founder-Gerry-McCusker

The Drill Crisis Simulator founder Gerry McCusker.

Never has there been so much independent criticism of crisis defences.

From banking to bushfires and aged care to pandemic responses, impartial evaluations of national, state, corporate and not-for-profit responses to disaster, emergency and danger threats decry lamentable lapses in crisis management planning, response and mitigation.

Royal commissions, post-event reports, industry whistleblowers, off-sided insiders, rapidly recruited staff and multiple sources have all tipped-off the media about deficiencies in crisis plans, equipment, supervision, training, process and oversight. No surprise, then, that the consequences can become grave and, in the case of COVID-19, became deadly.

As a crisis management adviser of twenty-plus years, I observe what often starts as a modest issue, rapidly morphs into a major incident due to two simple factors:

  • Poorly orchestrated decision-making; closely followed by
  • Incomplete or inept communication.

Australia needs this disturbing question answered: ‘Why are there so many crises amid our contemporary crisis management responses?’

We’re, allegedly, not short of crisis response experts and emergency responders, all armed with sharp intellects and working from crisis command centres to assess, strategise and implement effective crisis plans.

We have never been so capably tooled-up with all manner of tech — think geo-locating, tracing, modelling, predictive and crisis simulation software.

Yet crisis management efforts — from fires to infection crises — are repeatedly found wanting. Again, we need to find out why.

We see it regularly. Companies deny there’s an issue, then recant under pressure. CEOs insist they did everything right, then resign under media scrutinySmall businesses see the money but not the need for operating mandatories. Some didn’t know the drill; others had no drill at all. Despite repeat warnings, others just cross their fingers and hope it won’t get too bad.

And our politicians… Well, their hearts were often in the right place. Yet they, and their much-needed actions, budgets, decisions, fail-safes, processes and resources, weren’t as well-found.

In Australia, we should thank and praise the exemplary support we have access to, but we must learn why so many befuddled decisions are still taken with such grave consequences.

One stark truth is that, clearly, too few make adequate investments in pre-crisis planning and training.

The painful and protracted real costs of crises — depression, distress, family fatalities and social isolation — are often borne by those at the sharp end of the decision-making stick.
There are thousands of theories and case books about crisis management planning.

However, while insights intersect and diverge in equal measure, safe ground for any organisation responding to any unfolding crisis is simply this: be single-minded in efforts to isolate and alleviate the pain impacts experienced by the frontline vulnerable.

“Forget crisis politics, pursue effective crisis policies,” as ABC radio host Raph Epstein recently said.

Don’t try and serve two masters, kill two birds with one stone, get the best of both worlds or, heaven forbid, juggle the best price for mission-critical tasks.

Trying to accomplish too many things mid-crisis just leads to split or compromised decisions where no one wins. 

Focus your efforts on taking away the pain.

And to really understand the pain, simply involve someone from the most affected group to tell you what pain feels and looks like to them.

In a crisis, when you focus on their pain — and not your own political, power or profit needs — your heart, focus and energy is always in the right place.

There was a TV advert in the UK for the Commercial Union insurance company in the 80s, with the memorable tagline: “We won’t make a drama out of a crisis.”

When crisis management responses are scathingly critiqued by numerous independent and staff reviews — as well as by media and crisis pundits — this tagline is a great motto to help organisations re-think their approach to crisis management.

Don’t make the crisis worse and always keep others’ pain front-of-mind, as you plan and execute your well-thought-out, well-rehearsed, coherent and easy-to-follow crisis management strategy.

NOW READ: Leadership in a crisis: You need to ask your team these six questions

NOW READ: Why do fintech startups thrive during times of crisis?

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