In this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal & Chief Executive Bryan Strawser, along with Consultant Bray Wheeler, discuss the need to “over-respond”, in a manner of speaking, but not overreacting – when it comes to establishing your crisis management framework and your own importance as a leader within your organization.
Related Episodes & Blog Posts
- Episode #1: Shouldn’t we have a plan for alien invasion?
- Episode #23: Crisis Management is not a pickup game
- Episode #47: A crisis team is not an academic debating society
Bryan Strawser: Welcome to the Managing Uncertainty podcast. This is Bryan Strawser, Principal and Chief Executive here at Bryghtpath.
Bray Wheeler: This is Barry Wheeler consultant here at Bryghtpath.
Bryan Strawser: You know, I like to think that everybody belongs to a couple of different tribes in their lives. And I don’t mean like real tribes but like the tribe of career or community that you’ve joined. And I’ve got the whole crisis management and business continuity communities and global security. And I’m Catholic, so I’ve got my Catholic tribe kind of thing. But I’ve-
Bray Wheeler: Red Sox Nation.
Bryan Strawser: Red Sox Nation, absolutely. And the Patriots and the Bruins. The Celtics. But you know, one of my tribes is a… I was never a firefighter, but I worked in law enforcement. So I kind of think of that as a tribe. And I’m an EMT, and I wasn’t EMT in the past and I am again now. And I think of that as my tribe. And when we were thinking about this podcast today, What we were going to talk about, over-responding but not overreacting, I was reminded of what very little I know about the fire service. And that is when there’s a fire of some type, there’s a set response.
Bryan Strawser: So a residential fire in Roseville, Minnesota is going to result in two engine companies, a ladder company and a BLS unit and a chief, the battalion chief, going to that. And what that first engine in, the officer on that engine or the chief, if they get there before the apparatus, which is unlikely, the first thing they do is a size up where they walk around the incident. They take a look at it and they’re making an instantaneous decision on calling for more resources, or I have what I need to handle this.
Bryan Strawser: And that call for resources is usually a little ahead of the actual need. They look at it and they’re like, well, I’ve got like two houses nearby. I’m going to have to mitigate against those homes catching on fire. And I know that has a term in the fire service. I don’t remember what it is. But they’re going to try to protect these two houses and he’s going to need another two engine companies to do that. They’re going to make that decision. So they’re not… They’re responding, but they’re also kind of over-responding a bit because they’re looking at, well, I might need this and might need this. I’m going to call for these units now.
Bray Wheeler: Well, and typically EMS may be en route. Police may be en route. So you have a lot of different emergency services kind of collapsing on that location to-
Bryan Strawser: Power and gas.
Bray Wheeler: Power and gas. … to make sure that the right amount of resources had been applied to that situation or are on standby, to your point. Kind of waiting or starting to get into the trucks and ready to go.
Bray Wheeler: So, yeah. It’s really, I think, where kind of his mantra comes from is really off of that metaphor. And when we think about crises or incidents, things like that, you really want… There’s kind of a fine line that organizations typically walk between that kind of over-respond and overreact. And where you, where you definitely want to be is on that kind of over-respond side of the house, rather than the overreacted thing for a lot of different reasons.
Bray Wheeler: Because I think what ends up happening is if you tend to drift towards that overreact, or you have people that kind of get worked up easily, they’re a little bit more apt to kind of stress the environment out. Kind of overplay what’s actually happening. All probably with good intentions, well-intentioned kind of reactions, but still complicating the response. You’re creating stress. You’re damaging the reputation of kind of the people and the process and those teams, cross-functional teams that you stood up, your plans, all that kind of stuff.
Bray Wheeler: Seems like, I don’t know if that’s really the right approach because everybody gets worked up and stressed out and it’s… I don’t really like it. You know, I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t want to play in that space. So I think where you want to be very conscious of making that distinction is in that over-respond, and it’s almost a cultural thing, and it’s almost something that you tell your leadership, you tell the cross-functional team, you tell key leaders and resources within the company that says, Hey, our default is going to be to over-respond to something. We’re not going to overreact, but we’re going to over-respond. This means you might get pulled into conversations, you may get asked to do some things kind of at the outset, but we’re going to assess this situation and determine do we still need that amount of resources? Do we still need the full cross-functional teams? Do we only need three teams? You know, what is going on and let’s apply the right amount of resources.
Bray Wheeler: Because I think that’s part of the value that you get about over-responding is you’re applying that right amount of resources to the situation. But you’re also building that muscle memory and that confidence within the cross-functional team that says, Hey, we’re getting used to seeing these incidents. We’re getting used to identifying what is severe, what’s not severe, what’s developing, what’s not developing. And especially for a young, or kind of fresh cross-functional team, it’s super important that there’s as much exposure to some of that stuff as possible so that people get a feel for what’s important and what’s not.
Bray Wheeler: But it also kind of demonstrates the value proposition that these plans and cross-functional teams have in an organization. That, within the broader organization, they see it as, Hey, they’re stood up to react to the fire that’s happening in the organization and they’re consistently doing that. It’s not, Oh, they picked this one but not this one and what are they really doing? I think this one’s important. Why aren’t they doing anything? That there is that, Hey, we’re going to search and response each time and we’re going to assess it based on what we know at the outset and as more people get in the room and say, Hey, I also have this. I have this. Nope, I don’t have any impact. I don’t have any impact. I don’t have any impact. You can really kind of surge response to that and you get a better picture of what’s going on.
Bryan Strawser: Yeah. I think that the kind of the impetus for the idea behind this episode was something Bray and I had experienced a couple of months back and that was we had a client who has a crisis management process. A very well defined one I think. But they rarely use it. I think they’ve really kind of put themselves in a place where they don’t want to activate that except in the worst-case scenario. As opposed to what we were seeing, which was they had your best-case scenario for a crisis in that you have a weather system coming in that you can see and predict and react to. And they were asking a lot of questions of a bunch of different people, like what’s this going to do and are you looking at your plans?
Bryan Strawser: And we were just chatting casually with our client and I said, well, why don’t you just activate your crisis process? Just use your crisis process. Convene your crisis management team and let’s have an open conversation with you leading it, facilitating it, about this situation that you find yourself in. With this severe weather system coming in. Actually it was two severe weather systems coming into two different geographical locations that could potentially have really disrupted some operations just because of the weather. Winter weather in one case and hurricane typhoon like the weather in another case.
Bryan Strawser: So let’s talk about that openly and let’s put you in the middle of that as the crisis leader. As we said in the previous episode, let’s make yourself important in the middle of this and use your crisis process to have this conversation. Because now you’ve activated it so you’re getting the benefit of that muscle memory of having worked through it. And two, you’re having this open broad conversation amongst a group of middle to senior leaders about what’s going on and you’re in the middle of it. I thought it was just a great positioning for them. And out of this conversation about having this happen is Bray looks at me and goes, well we want to over-respond, not overreact. And that’s where we kind of find ourselves in this conversation on the podcast.
Bray Wheeler: Yeah. Because even in that conversation there was some apprehension of wow, you know, it doesn’t really… Kind of hemming and hawing. It doesn’t really meet the criteria or you know, ah, that seems like it’s too much. It’s not too much. If you’ve communicated that out to this team, which should be pretty close or developing those close bonds is a kind of a cross-functional team in those relationships, if you say at the outset, Hey, we’re going to get together more often than not, and we’re going to do it in a kind of organized manner, and we’re going to appropriate appropriately react.
Bray Wheeler: You know, if we have an active shooter, well that’s probably something that we’re going to jump into relatively quickly. Stress is going to be relatively up. But if it’s a weather system, why aren’t we getting together and evaluating that kind of in the same way, but without the kind of natural stress that’s happening with that situation. Because it, to your point, it positions the function. It positions that incident leader, that capability, in front of people and lets them see how this process works so that you’re developing that muscle memory and that practice and that comfortability with the process in some of these things that might be a little bit more low stress. So when you do get into the higher stress situations, when you jump into that… Hopefully not, but if you should happen to jump into an active shooter situation, you understand what the… You’re not fighting the process or the understanding of the process. You’re able to kind of jump in and kind of understand what’s going on and just start working the problem rather than trying to understand how you should go about working the problem.
Bryan Strawser: Yeah. I mean I think it’s a chance to use your process the way your process was intended to be used.
Bray Wheeler: Right.
Bryan Strawser: Right? I mean you’re using those things that you’ve outlined as a part of your plan, your framework, to bring that team together and evaluate the situation the way that your process was intended for that to work.
Bray Wheeler: And it can be one of those things to where it can be kind of the standard way that you operate is that you’re going to react to… Say you have four levels of severity. You probably shouldn’t be reacting to the lowest level. Say that’s level four. Level one’s the highest. You probably shouldn’t be convening at a level four. Probably shouldn’t be convening at a level three. But, say, for every level two, we are going to convene, and we’re going to evaluate to see does is this serious enough that we need to apply resources? Is there anybody in the room that can help? Or do we feel like it’s trending still upward and it may reach that one, and we need to prepare ourselves?
Bray Wheeler: You may also be in a situation where for a while because you’re new, say, you know what, for the first year we’re going to convene for every level three and up so that we can get comfortable, we can talk through, we can start to mature ourselves. And maybe halfway through the year you say, you know what, every level two. Or you know, at a certain point you’re, you’re mature enough and say, Hey, we don’t need to convene all the time. We have enough institutional knowledge, enough practice, enough kind of relationship credibility with each other that we don’t need to convene as much anymore. We can back that off just a little bit and say we’re going to send out some communications around a level two. That’s going to be the expectation, is everybody’s going to get awareness to level two, and we’re going to convene kind of when the incident leader thinks of that business leader thinks.
Bray Wheeler: So there are different degrees in which you can kind of over-respond, overreact, and some of that is a maturity thing and some of it’s kind of how culturally you should work. But at the very least, especially if you’re a new kind of cross-functional team or you’ve had high turnover or something like that, over-responding is more beneficial than not enough response because, again, we get back into the issues of I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know who people are. What’s happening? On top of, Hey, I need to solve this problem. And that’s where you probably tend to get more people going rogue or doing their own thing. But if you’re over-responding, you’re forcing people into the process and that framework that you’ve designed.
Bryan Strawser: The way you want things to be done.
Bray Wheeler: Right.
Bryan Strawser: Yes. I remember early in my career leading crisis management that I was faced with kind of a similar situation and I wasn’t thinking of it in this way, but there were a number of protests going on across the country because of some political issue. And this crisis, so to speak, was being handled primarily by communications because it was viewed as a reputational problem. But these protests were disruptive and the comps team wasn’t communicated in the way that we did. There wasn’t clear direction being given to teams. And I was in my boss’s office complaining about this, like what do we do? And he just looks at me and goes, what do you mean what did we do? You have a crisis management process. You can activate and take… You’re not really taking control, but you can at least coordinate this response across the company to a growing disruption and send communication out through your defined communication processes that that is not happening today.
Bryan Strawser: So just activate it. And I’m like, why? Why would we do that? It’s a protest. He goes, it’s a disruption. Activate it. So I went grumbling down the hall and I’m like, wait a minute, if I do this then we’re going to have calls to coordinate what’s going on. Everyone’s going to speak openly and we’re going to get good cross-functional collaboration. We’re going to be sending out a communication to everyone about what’s happening on a regular cadence and stores are going to get direction. Why did I think of us? So by the time I got to my office, I was like, okay, let’s activate.
Bray Wheeler: The wise mind had kicked in?
Bryan Strawser: The wise mind had kicked in. But like this is a… The example of that was entirely an… It was definitely an… It was not an overreaction, but it was definitely an over-response in that this was a minor disruption to the organization, but it cleaned up our response in 24 hours. Like all of a sudden everyone knew what was going on. The action communication to the field organization was clear, and all of the stakeholders and partners that needed to know had clear communication of what was happening.
Bray Wheeler: And that’s a great example of the benefits of that over response is hopefully what it does is well, kind of a byproduct, is it cleans up those secondary incidents that may occur. So if you watch response to something that’s relatively inconsequential, but the way you handle the response becomes the crisis, people are upset about how you went about it, well, that’s not the initial crisis, but it’s definitely the new secondary emerging crisis out of that. And so hopefully what that over response does is it cleans it up. It, to your example, forces everybody into the room and organizes that response so that it’s clear and you don’t have folks doing their own thing, creating other issues.
Bray Wheeler: All those gaps and issues are known kind of within this organization and can be either addressed immediately or say, you know what, we’re parking lighting that. We’ll come back to it. We’re not-
Bryan Strawser: Sticking in the parking lot.
Bray Wheeler: Yeah, we’re not super worried about that at the moment. We’ll come back.
Bryan Strawser: And I think there’s a lot of connectivity on this topic to our previous episode, episode 86 about making yourself important. And this is episode 87 now. But there’s a lot of connectivity because I think that this kind of the similar thought process that we were talking about last week, that you have to make your function important and you have to be willing to put yourself out there as a leader to drive the results that your team is looking for and to make sure your team has the tools and resources and authority to do the things that you want them to do.
Bryan Strawser: I think it’s closely connected to this. Your willingness to use your processes or maybe bend your processes a little bit to get the outcome that you’re trying to achieve for your organization. I think it is about this. I’m going to leverage this process as best I can. I’m going to… And I’m making myself important by making this process stick in this situation.
Bray Wheeler: When I think where it comes back to kind of callback to other episodes too, is when we’ve talked about kind of characteristics of crisis leaders and things like that. This is where these characteristics and that right person or persons in that incident leader role come into play so critically on kind of walking this line. Because if you have somebody who’s not very good at it, can get a little bit too emotional, again, with all the positive intent in the world, but if they come across as overreacting to the situation, now you’ve essentially done harm to the process and the capability that you’re trying to build.
Bray Wheeler: So it’s really important that you find that right person or persons that walk that line of, Hey, I want to be clear. We’re over-responding, not overreacting. We are applying this process to see if we need to do more if everybody has what they need if there’s any coordination we can help assist with. Great. Do we feel like the severity is appropriate? You know, our thresholds, do they match kind of where we think this is at? Great. They do? Does nobody need anything? Great. Then we will stand this process back up should we need it? Do you know?
Bray Wheeler: So it’s really walking that line and that’s where some of those characteristics we talked about in that previous episode come into play of why you really need to walk that line of and being clear around, we’re over-responding, not overreacting. Overreacting gets us in trouble. Over responding may inconvenience a few people from some meetings, but probably isn’t going to do any harm to the organization.
Bryan Strawser: Right. So I think we’ve covered the topic here pretty well. Again, if you haven’t listened to our previous episode about making yourself important, there’s a lot of core correlation between the two. Definitely worth your time to hear episode 85. But with that, let’s wrap up episode 86.
We’ll have a new episode next week. Thanks for listening.