Digging Deeper: Crisis Management, A Special Form of Inquiry

Given that so much is riding on it, Crisis Management (CM) expressly calls for a special in-depth examination in terms of an IS. Basically, an IS is a systematic way of producing knowledge with respect to an important matter. Specifically, what ensures that an organization—let alone an entire society–will be adequately prepared for the worst possible crises that are increasingly likely in today’s complex and turbulent world?

The main features of an IS are as follows. 

Every IS starts with a preferred set of Inputs which it regards as the “basic Facts or elementary Truths of a situation.” The Inputs are thereby the essential starting points of Inquiry. An IS then Operates on the Inputs in such a way to produce a set of Outputs which are regarded as the “deeper and more wide-ranging Truths of a problematic situation.” In many cases, the Outputs are the set of Actions one is strongly advised to take in order to cope more fully with the situation at hand. Lastly, the Guarantor is by far the most critical part of an IS. Its fundamental function is “to guarantee” that starting with the “correct Inputs,” Operating on them in the “correct ways,” that ultimately one will arrive at The Truth. In essence, the Guarantor insures the validity of the End Results of an Inquiry.

With regard to CM, two ISs are operating in tandem. The first is the general IS that pertains to CM universally. The second is the specific IS that pertains to the crisis preparations of a specific organization.

The general IS is as follows. The Inputs are not only the full array of the basic Types of crises that are possible, but the basic facts associated with them. Namely, what is the frequency with which the various Types have occurred in a specified time, how and why they’ve occurred, and what are the forms they’ve assumed in various organizations and industries?

The Operator is the full set of actions that an organization needs to take Before, During, and After a crisis. To reiterate, the basic actions that need to be undertaken Before is the explicit consideration of how each of the known Types of crises can happen to an organization. Namely, what are the forms that they can assume such that they pose a serious threat? For another, what can the organization do to set up an appropriate series of mechanisms such that they will pick up the inevitable Early Warning Signals that generally precede all crises? In particular, what needs to be done to ensure that the bearers of bad news will be rewarded and “not killed”? Just as important, Crisis Management Teams (CMTs) that will meet regularly to assess the status of an organization’s crisis preparations need to be fashioned. 

Since I’ve written about it in previous blogs, I will not detail the actions that need to be undertaken During a crisis. In brief, the CMT needs to meet as soon as possible to assess the full nature of a crises, and especially what it needs to do to ensure the safety of its Stakeholders. 

The basic task of After is to ensure that the correct lessons are learned so that the organization is better prepared for the next crises.

The Output is the honest assessment of the true Crisis Preparedness of an organization, and what remains to be done to make it better prepared. 

Once again, the Guarantor is the most important component of all. Generally, it’s the underlying Culture of an organization. Namely, what does the organization truly value? Profits before people and safety? Are its actions in sync or out of sync with what it espouses? Does it require fundamental changes to be a Proactive Crisis Prepared organization? Is it prepared to undertake them? 

Fundamentally, the Guarantor is what has been learned from the best Proactive Crisis Prepared organizations.

In short, this is the general IS that pertains to CM universally. With regard to a particular organization, it’s its enactment of the general IS. Namely, it’s its track record with respect to its preparations and handling of previous crises. In particular, the Operator is an honest Audit of the Crisis Potential of an organization. The Output is the series of actions that need to be undertaken to help ensure that it’s Crisis Prepared.

In sum, the actions of organizations need to match the complexity of today’s world. In short, every organization is nothing less than a complex, messy system. It must therefore be treated as such. It’s the only true Guarantor that we have in coping with a world that grows more complex with every passing day.  

About imitroff

Dr. Ian Mitroff is Professor Emeritus at the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He is the president and founder of Mitroff Crisis Management, a private consulting firm based in Oakland, California, that specializes in the treatment of human-caused crises. He is a Senior Affiliate with the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at the University of California, Berkeley.
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