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As the threat level from natural disasters, cyber attacks, and other scenarios increases, the need for effective crisis management has never been more urgent.  During a recent WebForum, recommendations were made on how to gain funding and manage executive involvement. 

Doug R.: A lot of that’s going to depend on your organizational culture. I think if you can demonstrate the value of planning for these types of crisis events to that executive team, they’re going to understand why it is important and they’re going to give you the level of funding that is necessary to mitigate the risk that they want to ultimately mitigate as an organization.

If you’ve never actually had to use a crisis plan, you’re going to constantly be questioned why we put the time and effort into those scenarios and incident crisis management process. We have and continually have to implement our crisis plans. The more we do them, the better we get at responding to these crises. The better we get at communicating to our associates.

That’s one of the things around getting that executive buy-in, showing that value. The micromanagement, again, that’s going to really depend on the leadership involved in a crisis scenario. We occasionally struggle with that as well. People want to get to a level of detail that probably isn’t appropriate in the heat of the moment.

Sometimes you’re going to have to respond with incomplete information during that crisis. We just try to manage that as best we can while on the call. That’s probably what we feel our main job is on those calls, to make sure that we’re moving forward and making decisions so that we can respond quickly.

Eric C.: This is a big problem in our organization. We’ve tried to rectify it. It’s a problem in that I think there’s sworn and there’s civilians and there’s different divisions directors but then there are chiefs. That’s a dynamic that we’re having problems with.

Moderator: Anybody have advice for Eric?

Greg G.: Generally, as soon as there’s a critical business impact, I’m mainly speaking from IT system outages, they want to know instantly, like within five minutes, of a major network outage or major application outage, they want to know all the details basically immediately so they can communicate out to the stakeholders so that they can show that we’re on top of things.

Basically, you’ve got to just level set expectations of leadership. We just have to be rational people. We have to talk to them. Like hey, it takes this amount of time to get a grasp on things Give us 20 minutes on something.

Eric C.: Yeah, we brief our executives like that. I think we need a paradigm shift. We’re not as dynamic as private industry. We’re a little bit slower in that regard. It’s going to maybe take time to get different people and younger people that understand this a little bit better.

Moderator: Maybe some of the documentation that we’re going to get will be helpful to you.

Eric C.: Yeah, that would be great.

Doug R.: The thing that we’ve seen around that here at our organization is that clear accountability. If people understand what their role and responsibility is, they tend to give the leeway necessary to get the right information in a timely manner. If they know that there’s people on the call involved that are working towards getting that information. That took some time.

Like you said, it’s not something you can flip the switch on. It’s something we still work on. Having that group of people on the phone, everybody know who everybody is and everybody understands what their role is during that crisis scenario, has helped us in that regard. Those exercises help because people get on the phone, somebody might start diving into something.

If you’ve got a strong crisis leader in place, they’re able to tell that person back up. We’re going to get there, but right now we need to respond to more urgent needs that we have.

Sarah H.: We try to get a general message out that says IT knows there is an issue immediately, and that a follow-up will be provided by XXX time when more details are known. I’ve advanced the slide to talk about tools.

Doug M.: Along with briefings we also provide metric reports for important measures. Also, we normally have a Kanban board of the tasks in progress.

Carlos F.: An initial notification, continuous updates (hourly if needed) and resolution notification.

Holly S.: (provided after the session) In my IT Portfolio Manager role at previous employer, managing executive expectations was initially a challenge. Although a notice of system outage would be published, it often just served to prompt calls to cell phones from various executives to various people causing confusion, stress and misinformation.

By  creating a personalized, standard  communication process specifically for executive management, I was able to act as the point person to the executive team. Calls to me were significantly reduced and calls to the resolving teams were eliminated so they could work on resolutions.  

Here’s what I found:

Each executive likely has different areas of concern. What is important to one executive isn’t necessarily the first concern of another. For example, in a system down situation (planned or unplanned) one executive may be concerned about downtime for the operations. Another might be concerned customer impact such as delay in EDI or reporting data to external customers.  The CFO might be concerned about the impact to financial data interfaces.  

Proactively take the time to ask each executive about their priority area(s) of concern in the event of a system outage or other crisis. Prepare a standard email communication that specifically addresses each area in non-technical language, whether or not there is an impact, and the next planned communication.  Use this same standard communication each time and just change the information relative to each area of concern.

Most executives just want the highlights and if their particular concerns are addressed, will not want to make or join phone calls. Additionally, it’s easy to get a simple yes or no from IT regarding the impact to each system so you can get the standard communication out right away  and they can return to resolving and then identifying root cause.

Example:

Dear Leadership Team:

Due to the overnight storms, two of our servers are currently down.  Here is what this means to you:

Impacted:

·       Customer reports scheduled to deliver tomorrow morning may be delayed. Data is flowing to the reports server but is not being processed.  We will advise before end of day if tomorrow’s reports will be delayed so that customers can be informed.

·       EDI data is not being processed. Invoices and status messages are not being sent to customer systems. We will advise status in 3 hours. If status messages are still not flowing,  operations will be advised to  notify customers of the delay.

Not Impacted:

·       The operations system is not impacted. Operations may still log in and process orders.

·       Phones are not impacted. Inbound and outbound calls are going through.

I’ll send an additional update should any of the above information change

Members may download the Crisis Management transcript at any time. For more information, please contact NOREX.