Over the summer I’ve watched and listened with interest as leaders of nations, regions and businesses wrestle with decision making in the context of the ‘wicked problem’ that is the CVOID-19 Pandemic.  From a professional perspective the challenges of this context have illustrated some of the more common problems we help crisis management teams overcome.  These decision making ‘pathologies’ are potentially crippling for an organisation and reduce the effectiveness of managing in uncertain and complex times.  This is a crucial area for crisis teams to be successful; so, we’ve added our thoughts as a two part webcast, which can be accessed here, and are summarised in this post.

Crises are stressful.  This stress creates its own complexities by forcing errors, reducing options, creating pressure and reinforcing biases.  Creative solutions that need many perspectives may be required, whilst the time available and stressors of the crisis reduce the spread of involvement (further dialling up the pressure on those that remain).  Stress also reduces the capacity for reasoning and logic, and it reduces tolerance of ambiguity.  The stressors of a crisis distort information, leading to info overload or blockages, with ad hoc filtering and an induced short term focus further complicating things.  All this leads to increased ‘fog’, delay and inaccuracy, disrupting the right information reaching decision makers.

Then there’s the ‘architecture’ of the crisis response; the makeup and connectivity of teams, flows of information and the practicality (or fragility and rigidity) of the procedures governing them. Decision makers may not be adequately supported with a decision support function, and decisions may be quite far removed from implementation.  Not to mention the effectiveness of the crisis management teams themselves.  These teams often lack the procedural and psychological preparedness to function effectively in a crisis.  They may not understand the dynamics of decision making and how this can be adjusted to the circumstances of time and information available – ‘how’ decisions are made is often overlooked for a ‘one size fits all’ approach.  And complacency or ignorance mean some crisis leaders and teams badly underestimate the challenges they will face; often they will appear on ‘match day’ unprepared, yet expecting to be ‘match fit’ for the rigours of a crisis.  Such a lack of preparation means the right information doesn’t ‘flow’, so decisions are flawed or simply aren’t made in time.  The consequences of these ‘pathologies’ are serious for any business.

Managing crises is like swimming.  It isn’t inherent in everyone and it has to be learned and practised.  Jumping in at the deep end without training will definitely expose the non-swimmers.  And once you can swim, it’s important to realise that swimming in a pool does not mean you will swim well in a stormy sea.  So if you recognise any of these pathologies amongst your crisis teams and your decision making skills, and if you want some advice on how to overcome these challenges, watch our short webcasts here, or get in touch directly – you decide…!