How crisis management training helps senior managers make good decisions under pressure

February 7, 2017 by Martin Haines

Crisis management is tough for even the most experienced managers. The stakes couldn’t be higher and the buck stops with them. Bad decisions can quickly dissolve reputation, while good decisions can enhance value.

It is therefore essential for crisis management leaders to develop, hone and rehearse their decision-making skills before a crisis strikes.

Here are two practical steps senior management should take to ensure they make the right calls in the heat of a crisis:


1. Participate in a scenario planning workshop to consider critical decisions

Bring senior leaders together and explore the types of decisions they may need to take during several worst-case scenarios. By walking through likely scenarios, managers can consider practical decisions such as who needs to approve communication materials. At a more strategic level they can pre-identify triggers for business critical decisions such as when to initiate a product recall, whether to inform customers of a data breach, halt the production line or send staff home in the event of an incident. Taking the time to conduct scenario planning means that senior managers will be able to make better and quicker decisions in the event of an incident. 

2. Practice decision making under pressure through a crisis simulation

Though nothing can fully replicate the pressure of a real crisis, a well run crisis simulation comes pretty close. For senior managers to get maximum benefit from a simulation, critical decision-making challenges must be woven into the exercise. Make sure you include ‘no win’ dilemmas and the requirement to make decisions based on incomplete information under severe time pressure. Force managers to choose between short term financial pain and what is ‘right’ based on the company’s values. Decision making is like any other skill: practice makes perfect.

Senior management play a unique role in the event of a crisis: ultimately it is their responsibility to make the big calls which will determine whether your reputation is preserved or, worst case, destroyed. With that in mind, committing to planning and practicing decision making ahead of a crisis could be the best decision your top team ever makes.

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