Crisis Management: Will the Crisis Go Away If I Just Do Nothing?

Being able to make the right decisions during a crisis is one of the most difficult tasks expected of a leader. Should you mobilise your emergency team, or should you wait and see if the situation passes? Have you thought this scenario through in advance, or not? 

The surest way to avoid making a bad decision is to make no decision at all. But is that a bad decision in itself?

The Right Action at the Right Time

The desired outcome of army leadership training programmes is for soldiers to come out capable of implementing the right actions at the right time. This involves developing a heightened level of situational awareness. If you're not making decisions, you're not utilising the full scope of available action – a scope that gets smaller with every second that passes.

Author and philosopher Øyvind Kvalnes coined the terms 'passive error' (not doing something you should have) and 'active error' (doing something you shouldn't have). Whenever you make a decision, you risk making a mistake. However, the decision to do nothing can also lead to ruin. Which strategy you choose will depend on how your business tolerates active and passive errors.

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The graphic below illustrates how, during a crisis situation, the scope of action shrinks as the amount of information available increases. If you’re afraid of making active errors and wait too long to make a decision, the opportunity to take action may pass you by.


Hidden Traps During the Decision-Making Process

In order to make the right decisions at the right time, there are a number of hidden pitfalls you should be aware of. These are known as decision traps, and while all different, each is equally problematic for decision makers:

  • The 'status quo' trap

    This is the decision to do nothing and leave things the way they are. Of course, this can be the correct course of action occasionally, but it’s a game of chance. 
  • The 'need for approval' trap

    When an emergency strikes, you need to act fast. Sure, you should confer with your colleagues about the best response, but seeking the approval of absolutely everyone before you take action can waste a lot of precious time. 
  • The 'anchoring' trap

    Giving disproportionate weight to – i.e. anchoring – the first piece of information you receive during a crisis can cloud your decision making. This is a tricky one to avoid – it's only natural to base your decisions on previous information – but simply being aware of this trap should help you make better decisions.
  • The 'conformity' trap (groupthink)

    Just because everybody is in agreement with a particular decision doesn't mean it's the right one to make. Never take action just because you fear going against the grain.

> Read more: 7 Tips for Choosing the Right Incident Management Software

Which Decisions Can You Avoid Making in the Moment?

When you're dealing with an incident and time is in short supply, there are a few decisions you shouldn't have to make on the fly, such as:

  • Which people you need to notify internally
  • How notifications should be conducted
  • The content of the notifications
  • Whether the crisis management team should assemble or not
  • Where you should assemble
  • What kind of information will give you good situational awareness
  • What the agenda for the first crisis meeting should look like

All of these are examples of decisions you can make in advance, implement into your crisis management plan, and practise thoroughly before any incident occurs. That’s what taking the right actions at the right time looks like.

This proactive approach to crisis preparation can increase your scope of action during a crisis, giving you a better chance of making the right decisions when it matters the most. Write your contingency plan today and ensure your team are ready for anything.

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By Andrew Carvell

Andy is the Managing Director of One Voice’s international business, based in London and has worked with incident and crisis management solutions since 2010. He has a particular focus on the aviation and energy sectors and works closely with One Voice’s partner Control Risks to broaden the service offering of both parties. Andy has a degree in law from the University of Nottingham and outside of work, enjoys rugby, golf and outdoor pursuits.

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