Whether you are:
- Planning for or managing the response to an incident, emergency or crisis;
- Assessing risks;
- Designing an exercise; or
- Conducting an emergency management systems audit,
having a clear objective is a critical success factor.
All too often emergency plans fall short or fail to provide useful information when needed most. Risks are missed, not considered or incorrectly rated, and exercises miss their mark. It’s all because either the objectives were not clear, or in some cases they were not really objectives at all. That is what we think is an objective may a strategy or even a tactic. We could consider this to be a crisis of identity. So how do we get around these challenges in a time critical situation? Clearly effective and detailed analysis and contingency planning before the event occurs is the obvious key to success. However, this is not always possible, or sometimes not every eventuality can be anticipated. Therefore we need to consider how we can minimise the impact when facing the crisis.
When is an objective really an objective?
To answer the conundrum of identity first, that is, when is an objective really an objective? When its not a strategy and not a tactic! All too often we tend to go for the low hanging fruit in a crisis and end up defining our objective based on a strategy, a tactic or the ‘easy outcome’ (or maybe the sensationalist outcome depending on your motivation). Take for example the recent activities of the Australian television show 60 minutes in Lebanon. Without embarking on the rights of wrongs of the motivation behind this story, it appears that the actions at the foundation of this were poorly planned and there was no contingency planning to achieve the objective or to ensure the well being of those involved. In short, it could be argued that the plan was ill-conceived and poorly executed. For those of you who have been exposed to EMCS training, remember the ‘Old lady and the cabbage patch’ activity, the challenge is to understand the real objective and not get caught on strategies or worse still tactics. For those who haven’t……. perhaps its time to think about some focused training to meet your needs and set your objectives clearly.
To address the main challenge, the key to effective objective setting is a root cause analysis to understand what you are really dealing with. When I work with clients, regardless of whether its to assist with developing a plan, conduct training, facilitate an exercise or assist with operational management, I always start with this same analytical approach to clearly understand what the expected outcomes are. In other words, what is the real problem and this involves effective information management and asking many questions including effectively identifying ‘What does success look like?’
Objectives to lead through uncertainty
Once this has been completed, the general consensus in management training and in an operational context, Incident Control Systems such as AIIMS, CIMS and the many variants, is that objectives need to be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely), and clearly communicated to all involved. So regardless of the implementation environment, understanding the objective is a key success indicator. However, some of the latest entrepreneurial management thinking (from Peter Economy, author of ‘Managing for Dummies, The Management Bible, Leading Through Uncertainty’) is that SMART is outdated and in today’s ‘faster and more agile’ business world objectives now need to CLEAR (collaborative, limited [in scope and duration], emotional, appreciable, refinable). While we could draw any number of conclusions just from the title of the book alone, it strikes me the CLEAR concept is more about engagement of employees than resolving a crisis. Regardless, there is no doubt that being an On Scene Commander, Incident Controller, Emergency Response Coordinator, Crisis Manager (or any other title your organisation bestows upon you) is all about ‘Leading through uncertainty’. For this to be effective, not only do your objectives need to be SMART, but you also need an effective command leadership style!