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Passing the ACID Test (3)

In a blog published on April 29th we started looking at our crisis management benchmark The ACID Test.

We believe there are four vital capabilities required in a successful crisis response: Activation, Communication, Information Management and Decision Making.

For a look at Activation and Communication go here, but this time we want to examine the two final capabilities: Information Management and Decision Making.

Information management

The effectiveness of emergency response largely depends on having access to precise, up-to-date information.

In these hyper connected times information generally flows smoothly around an organisation. Crises have a habit of interrupting this flow making complete situational awareness very tricky.

A crisis by its very nature is an unstable, disruptive event with facts and impacts changing at an alarming rate.

It is often said, and rightly so, that during a crisis there is never enough information, but sometimes there is too much information; it’s just not the right or relevant information.

So an essential crisis capability is the ability to gather, assess, filter and then share information so decision makers have the best shot at choosing the right course of action.

Keeping track of a crisis

Plans and checklists are essential in a crisis, but so too are individuals with secretariat skills to record information as it becomes available. They need to note decisions and actions, as well as challenging the crisis team if they believe something has been missed.

In his book ‘The Checklist Manifesto’, Atul Gawande makes a distinction between ‘errors of ignorance’; making a mistake because you’re not in full possession of the facts, and ‘errors of ineptitude’; fouling up because you don’t make good use of what you do know. Gawande thinks the latter is where most mistakes are made.

Accurate information

No company want to make ‘errors of ineptitude’ but unless information is recorded, filtered and shared effectively, prospects of a successful outcome from a crisis will be bleak.

Successful information management means asking these questions:

  • Are timely and accurate situation updates available?
  • Have information gaps been identified and resources assigned to meet those needs?
  • Where can we source this information?
  • Is there a robust process for reviewing information?
  • How do we rank information in terms of accuracy and importance?
  • How will the information be shared so all teams are kept informed?

Decision making

One of the great arts in overcoming a crisis is successful decision making, but in a crisis this is far from easy. Essential information may not be available, forcing executives to take decisions with limited access to the facts.

The flip side to this is what’s sometimes called ‘analysis paralysis’ with executives constantly seeking more and more information to put off having to take a decision.

To create an environment where successful decisions are taken you need to be able to answer these questions:

  • Who’s in charge?
  • Are issues being resolved and decisions made by those with appropriate authority?
  • Are we asking the ‘what if?’ questions – in other words are we looking ahead?
  • And is this process allowing issues to be anticipated?

Strategic Intent

 To resolve a crisis, you need to identify what a good outcome will be. In other words, ask the question: what does good look like?

We call this the Strategic Intent. The Strategic Intent provides the framework and purpose for all activity. It should be simply expressed in a short sentence.

For example, for a crisis in which a principal office facility has been destroyed, the Strategic Intent might be ‘to minimise disruption to existing clients by restoring defined essential services to them within twenty-four hours’.

This is a business-focused objective and it does three things:

  1. It identifies the effect you’re trying to achieve: ‘minimise disruption to existing clients’.
  2. It says how you’re going to do it: ‘restore defined essential services’.
  3. And it provides a timeframe: ‘within 24 hours.’

A Strategic Intent should be determined at the highest level; ideally by the CEO.

It can always be reviewed and confirmed or amended, but unless there is a fundamental shift in circumstances it should be valid for the duration of the crisis.

Finally, it must be communicated company-wide so everyone understands the overarching purpose of their work.

Main Effort

 In a crisis it is highly likely you won’t have all the resources you require. There’s never enough IT, transport or people depending on the nature of the event. To overcome this, the best crisis responders prioritise.

To achieve your desired outcome, your Strategic Intent, your team will need to accomplish a range of different tasks that may take days to complete. To overcome lack of resources you need to set a Main Effort or top task.

This helps ensure assets are correctly assigned and the response effort is grounded in reality and is task orientated.

Within the framework of the Strategic Intent it is highly likely the Main Effort will evolve over time. As one Main Effort is completed another will arise.

Of course the concept of Main Effort doesn’t mean it’s the only thing that happens at any one time – it simply provides clarity around resources and priorities.

As with the Strategic Intent, the Main Effort should be set by the most senior person in the room and communicated widely.

In a large organisation a crisis response will involve multiple teams. Where this is the case we would expect to see each team identify a Main Effort in order to support the Strategic Intent.

Just to reiterate: The Strategic Intent shouldn’t change but the Main Effort will once it’s been completed.


That concludes a relatively speedy look at our crisis benchmark: The Acid Test, which lies at the heart of all the tools and techniques we employ to make sure our clients are crisis ready.