Is the classic crisis manager still needed after Corona?

The world is in a state of emergency – and has been for a year. Reason enough to ask more precisely what this actually means for the future of crisis management and the experts who have been dealing with this topic for years. From now on, I will be taking a closer look at various areas from my point of view every month. In turn, I will also be consulting other professionals. Andreia Fernandes, a proven expert on leadership issues, discussed with me the question of whether the classic crisis manager will still be needed in the future. And what influence the current situation will have on the crisis management work of the future – especially with regard to the “human factor”.

In these challenging times, we are suddenly surrounded by supposed experts. Real experts who, for understandable reasons, are often unable to commit to exact forecasts and those who think they know exactly how the virus will spread and how it will be stopped. Regardless of the ongoing exceptional situation, amazingly, some know that some measures were completely wrong and others, on the other hand, were good, even before all the relevant facts are available.

What is particularly striking is the sudden proliferation of crisis management experts. Simple analysis of the deluge of ‘expert’ articles might conclude that their experience was clearly in other fields, far away from pandemic planning.

I am concerned to see that terms such as pandemic plan, crisis management, business continuity management and crisis leadership are blithely lumped together. This is dangerous, and one should avoid falling for the idea that all these terms mean the same thing. 

We don’t want to join in with another list of currently required leadership qualities, but it might make sense to look at the whole thing from a different perspective:

“All business continuity management would not have helped in the current situation”

I have heard this sentence several times in recent months. One of my clients, a large international company even said that the entire programme was to be cancelled without replacement because it had not brought the hoped-for result of a worry-free time.

One thing is true, even the best BCM programme cannot cover the lockdowns unique in recent history and thus the loss of entire company foundations – but that is not and was not what BCM was intended for.

The situation remains serious and exceptional! The consequences of the lockdowns are even unpredictable. Every company has HAD to adopt a crisis mode in recent months. Of course, this also means that entire management levels are no longer concerned with anything other than the crisis situation. Therefore, after Corona, are they all experienced and good crisis managers? Will the emergency response or crisis management department be obsolete in the future? Is there no need for a business continuity manager or a business resilience department, as the department often called for crisis management processes, for the “post-pandemic” period or the “new normal”?
We are certain here: quite the opposite – now more than ever!

The reappraisal of the events will bring discussions about how many masks or disinfectants, perhaps how many rolls of toilet paper, need to be stockpiled in the future. All reactive measures to counter a possible crisis like the Corona pandemic in the future. Only, if you have seen one crisis, you have seen exactly that one crisis and only the aspects of that one crisis. Every crisis is different and the main challenges will vary greatly depending on the company, culture, team and situation.

Crisis management does not only consist of reactive measures.

Crisis management, like business continuity management, is an independent discipline. And most important the focus is less on the purely reactive side, but rather on finding a balance between proactive and preventive measures, i.e. avoiding a disruption or crisis situation and finding new ways for the reactive solutions.

Covid has shown us how closely linked and unstable our world is. But the next example will not be a global corona virus. Studies consistently show that the main concern of companies is the increase in cybercrime. This is shown by the increase in recent cyber attacks on Swiss companies, but also by the annual Allianz Risk Barometer and numerous publications by the Business Continuity Institute.

A crisis rarely comes alone – this is shown by the significant increase in cyber attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“After the crisis is before the crisis”

We need more experts who, through proactive work, try to see as many scenarios as possible in advance and establish measures against them. We will look at this in more detail in the next blogposts what measures these could be and how they could be implemented.

And although we have promised not to generate another list of technical terms and leadership topics. We cannot completely exclude the topic in our context:

If this pandemic has shown us anything, it is the human aspect of crises. Not every crisis is characterised by suddenly finding out about the hangover of one’s superiors* or the living room of the board member* via zoom. Not to mention employees who teach their children at home on the side and are not immediately available for day-to-day business. These rather harmless examples are demonstrative of the purpose of our article, but in no way represent the many individual and personal crises that individuals have gone through.

In addition to a certain “desktop fatigue” at the moment, with whole teams no longer enjoying the virtual get-togethers as much as before, it is now up to the managers to process the past months as a team. Here, too, the aforementioned unsexy-ness of prevention applies, and yet the reworking – and digesting – of the past months is also preparation for a future as a strong team.

Team resilience

In addition to the technical and thus also factual level of this crisis, it is now also important to look at the emotional level. What has it done to the corporate culture as a whole? What has happened in individual teams? And what conclusions can be drawn from this for future collaboration? Especially at the beginning of the year, this can be a valuable activity to review the past year and to jointly determine what you want more of, what you want less of, and what you have learned, for example in dealing with each other. In the following blogposts we will discuss all of the above questions, for now try to reflect about them yourself.

From a pure crisis management perspective, a crisis is considered to have been successfully overcome when some kind of normal state is reached again and no major consequences of the crisis remain. This implies that no major mistakes occur during crisis management. Can this be directly transferred to leadership and cooperation in teams? It would be nice!

Unfortunately, it is still too often the case that many companies lack a good and constructive error culture. Then a crisis becomes a catalyst and brings to light the very weak points of a team culture or a team and possibly reinforces them. Ideally, team-building activities are done regularly in advance and a good learning culture with small rituals is established in everyday work.

A strong team is also much more resilient during times of crisis.

If, for example, a project is in trouble, well-trained teams know how to address such circumstances at an early stage and thus anticipate emerging crisis situations. Other teams learn at the latest during the debriefing and draw important conclusions so that mistakes are not repeated in future projects. In both cases, trust in the supervisor and the team as a whole is a prerequisite for transparent communication.

How did you behave as a leader during the pandemic? Did you have regular contact with each of your team members? Was there ever room for asking about personal sensitivities and challenges with the situation?

You can read about ways to build a strong error culture and resilient teams, as well as other crisis management topics, in our blog in the coming months.

Kerstin Mumenthaler – aim4safety

aim4safety – your consultancy for strategic business continuity, crisis and safety management in Zurich and around the world.

With aim4safety, we pursue the vision of bringing decades of expertise and experience from one of the safest industries of our time to your company. Benefit from the professionalism of commercial aviation and rise to a new level of safety. Are you ready for Departure?
Contact us and we will inspire you too.

Kerstin’s heart beats for safety and crisis management.

In addition to her training as a commercial pilot, Kerstin therefore completed a Master of Science in Air Safety Management and attended various courses in business continuity and also project management. As a former airline pilot, her logbook contains more than 6,000 flying hours on the Airbus A320.

Today she is an official member of the Business Continuity Institute (MBCI) and offers services and consulting for business continuity, crisis and safety management through her own brand aim4safety. She is currently studying Change & Innovation Management at the University of St. Gallen.

Andreia Camichel Fernandes – SEABRAND International GmbH

With SEABRAND International, Andreia advises companies worldwide at the interface of strategy and leadership. She accompanies strategy processes of renowned Swiss companies or supports start-ups with coaching to establish a sustainable corporate culture. She coaches leaders, strengthens teams through team building and facilitates workshops and events when she is not writing her book. In crisis situations, she takes care of the human aspects and advises specifically on leadership issues.

After working in various sectors in consulting and as a managing director, Andreia started her own business in 2015 and has since built up a portfolio career in parallel. Today, in addition to being a consultant and coach, she is also an advisory board member for start-ups and a lecturer. She has an MBA from the University of St. Gallen and is passionate about continuing her education.