In my previous blog, I explained the importance of having a plan. Here, I set out two further key principles: get the right people together, and listen to them.
We can be excellent CEOs, managers or advisers, and we can have the best-drilled crisis teams.
But unless those at the coal-face trust that we, their leaders and managers, will listen to their concerns and do something about them, then our employees will not escalate issues upwards until it is too late.
Timely escalation is a function of building trust. This requires that our employees are confident that we will listen and bear them in mind at all times. Otherwise the basis for the relationship between leaders and led is purely transactional. People are then likely to do no more than do what they are paid to do, and will not raise issues, especially if to do with things outside their remit.
In the SAS, as an officer, I could never have passed the rigorous selection process – nor survived subsequently – if I had not listened to the soldiers. They had built up valuable experience over many years. It would have been crazy not to heed their advice – notwithstanding that the responsibility for whatever decision emerged was mine and mine alone. That is the responsibility of leadership.
Indeed, there is a well-known saying in the Army that “if soldiers stop complaining, then you really need to start worrying”. This illustrates the point that lack of complaints likely means that there is no trust that anything will be done in response.
In commercial life, the final resort is often a whistle-blower confidential channel. The culture needs to be right for that to work. At one company where I worked, less than 10 confidential issues were raised in the course of one year – for 20,000 employees.
That showed either that the company ran like clockwork and managers almost always listened to their employees and had their full trust – or that the culture was not right for a confidential channel to work.
Jes Staley, the CEO of Barclays, demonstrated how to dissuade employees from using the confidential channel, by trying to unmask the identity of a whistleblower. Many believe that Jes was lucky not to be sacked as a result.
All those who are not our employees but who are in other ways connected to the business also need to feel that we will listen to them and respect their views. We need to take them into consideration when we make decisions and to explain the basis for those decisions.
My next principle is: ‘get the right people together’.
Handling crises is a team effort. In the aftermath of Deepwater Horizon, Tony Hayward, BP’s CEO, upset US Congress by saying very little in response to their questions. It is plausible that his lawyers had told him to do just that.
But if he had got the right people together from time to time, to discuss the ‘what ifs’, his lawyers would have agreed with his PR people in advance that much more could and should have been said when facing the public – and found a formula for doing so with which the lawyers were happy.
Coming next: positive decision making
John Deverall CBE is a member of the Resilience First board. He leads Deverell Associates (www.deverellassociates.com), helping family offices and their advisers to deal more effectively with risks. His company’s motto is “The Prepared Mind”.
This blog is adapted from ‘The ‘prepared mind’ at a time of crisis’ by John Deverell, taken from the ninth issue of the new The International Family Offices Journal, published by Globe Law and Business. See www.globelawandbusiness.com/journals/the-international-family-offices-journal