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Defining Roles and Responsibilities

Defining Roles and Responsibilities
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You just completed an activity where you drafted a relatively simple version of a crisis response checklist. As noted during the exercise, this isn’t something that a single individual is typically expected to do alone. This is best accomplished as a collaborative exercise with fellow organizational leaders who have different areas of responsibility. But the exercise should have given you some useful insight on general categories of importance and perhaps even some specific steps that should or could be completed in each category. Checklists are instruments that will probably never be 100% complete. You should return to them frequently for updates and additions. So who’s going to implement this new checklist of yours.
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Once again, there’s an incredible amount of literature out there to provide some guidance for defining crisis management roles and responsibilities for your organization. In a course this short, I can’t begin to cover all the considerations you should make when identifying and assigning organizational leaders to your crisis management team. If you’re really serious about setting up the right team and creating a world-class crisis response capability that I would suggest engaging a consulting company with expertise in this area. If there’s limited expertise in your company, and your leadership team has begun to realize the importance of crisis readiness.
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In fact the COVID-19 pandemic may have been the driving force in helping them draw this conclusion then an engagement with a team of experts would be money well spent. They can serve as a one-stop shop to help you build as robust a plan as you feel necessary. But you may not be ready for an elaborate plan, or maybe you don’t have the resources to make that commitment just yet. So your organization will have to depend on you and your freshly acquired expertise. Here is how I suggest that you go about defining crisis management roles and responsibilities at your company.
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First, think about the size and complexity of your organization and determine how different levels of leadership would typically support a company crisis. If your organization is relatively small and your leadership team is very well connected with the work being done throughout the enterprise, then perhaps this team will support both your strategic and tactical crisis leadership requirements, a distinction I’ll describe in a moment. If your organization is large, it may be best to have your senior executive service members of your strategic crisis leadership team and your next layer in the organization serve as your tactical crisis management team. How do these roles differ?
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In his book Blindsided, A Manager’s Guide to Crisis Leadership which would serve you well as a useful field guide to preparing for and dealing with the crisis at your firm. Author Bruce Blythe describes the differences between these two teams like this. The Strategic crisis leadership team consists of executives and senior managers who focus on issues that threaten the viability of the organization. They’re charged with maintaining a strategic perspective over the crisis, remaining largely removed from the tactical management of the situation. This group will focus primarily on decisions regarding threatened core assets, managing the concerns and interests of key enterprise stakeholders, authorizing significant decisions and expenses, and overseeing the effectiveness and well-being of the crisis management team.
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The more tactical crisis management team is charged with actually directing the crisis response to the organization. This is the team that staffs the company crisis command center and is composed of leaders from every function within the organization, in some publications, this team is known as the crisis action team. At JetBlue, I was the director of our emergency command center. And I was responsible for leading the crisis management team for the company, on my team was a vice president or director from every company function. In our command center, each of these departmental leaders had a designated workstation and for each crisis type in our typology a set of processes and procedures that they were expected to execute during a crisis.
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At a minimum whether you separate the strategic and tactical crisis response teams or combine them, you will require designated leaders to feel key decision making roles and tactical action roles. Across the various expert recommendations for establishing a crisis management team, a few required rolls or suggested as a starting point for your organization. If you have nothing in place today begin with these. First, a crisis manager, don’t let the title fool you this should be a very senior member of the organization with the experience, expertise, and full authority to make decisions and represent the best interests of the company during a crisis. Who in your organization should lead your crisis management team, start here.
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Next, appoint senior, if not the senior most leaders from these units as permanent members of the team. Finance, legal, human resources, public affairs, media/corporate communications, and a head or a small number of heads of operations for your primary business or businesses. If you have a COO or operations officer, this is probably your ideal candidate. These will be the primary members of your crisis team. It may also be prudent depending on the structure of your organization to also include a senior leader from your IT and safety, or safety security team as permanent members as well. From this list of suggested crisis management team members can you think of leaders in your organization to fill these roles?
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As I mentioned earlier regarding the creation of a typology, the filling of roles on a crisis management team is not the responsibility of a single leader. If you believe that your organization should have a strategic crisis leadership team. Then that group should select the members of the crisis management team. If not, then members of your c-suite should identify the appropriate leaders at your organization. Once you’ve identified the roles and people to fill them. You’ll need to define a set of specific responsibilities for each of them.
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If we had more time in this course, we could explore a number of different ways to do so, as we do not, I’ll simply say that there are a few ways to begin the responsibility definition process. First, you can engage in external expert to help, this will be expensive but it will be fast and effective. Alternatively, you can pull this group together and brainstorm the responsibilities they believe they should have during a crisis. As departmental leaders, they’ll understand their normal responsibilities. So they should be able to help the team think through the added responsibilities they must assume during a crisis.
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You might also find it helpful to use a couple of crisis examples from your typology to facilitate the responsibility brainstorming. Sometimes having a place to start is all the team will need to put pen to paper on who is going to be responsible for what during this type of crisis. See once again, our typology comes in handy, of course I could go on and on talking about crisis management roles and responsibilities. The truth is that there are almost an infinite number of ways to organize and prepare your team for your next crisis.
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I hope that what I’ve shared will be enough to get you started, then overtime with a little bit of further preparation and practice you’ll make some adjustments to your initial ideas, that should be expected. It’s all a function of learning as you go, which is of course a key element of resilience and a characteristic of organizations that are truly committed to crisis readiness.
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High Stakes Leadership: Leading in Times of Crisis

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