Business Resilience Practice Lead, MNP
As an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, Cliff Trollope did several tours in highly contested war zones which regularly required him to plan and prepare himself and his team for any number of “what if?” scenarios.
Trollope has since put his acquired skills to good use in the corporate world. As a partner and leader of the Business Resilience practice at MNP, a leading national accounting, tax, and business consulting firm in Canada, he helps business leaders prepare for crises ranging from cyber attacks to natural disasters. Many of them are now navigating the choppy waters of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s one thing for leaders to be effective during normal business operations, when they’re working in familiar environments, but being effective during a crisis is another matter entirely,” says Trollope.
Whether it’s a pandemic, a cyber attack, or the loss of a key supplier, a crisis creates confusion, pressure, and stress. There’s a lack of clarity about what’s happening and little time to make decisions. A crisis presents unique challenges, and the best leaders meet them.
Good crisis leadership requires visibility
In training sessions with executives and managers, Trollope outlines the fundamentals of good crisis leadership. To start, he says, an effective leader must be front and centre during a crisis. “You have to be highly visible as your organization addresses the crisis,” he says. “You can’t turtle.”
During a crisis, a leader should communicate effectively, which means managing expectations. Be honest about what’s happening, what needs to be done, and what can be done. If a mistake has been made, own up to it. “You can’t underestimate the importance of moral courage,” says Trollope, adding that putting people first is also essential.
A leader must make sound and timely decisions in a crisis. That means their role and the role of each member of their team must be clearly defined — and people must “stay in their lane” during the crisis. This requires preparation.
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Leadership in a crisis begins long before the crisis, and continues long after
Trollope says the first step of preparation is to create a framework for execution of a team’s crisis response. He advises clients to establish processes as well as a structure for communication, implementation, and monitoring during a crisis.
Then he works with them to ensure there’s clear understanding of risks faced by the organization that could trigger a crisis, and what can be done to mitigate the risks.
From there, Trollope helps clients establish specific plans and procedures with each individual’s role and responsibilities clearly defined.
Once the plan or playbook has been created, it needs to be implemented in regular training exercises, Trollope says. This can be as simple as tabletop exercises or as sophisticated as simulations. The plan documents should be reviewed periodically and revised if necessary.
The time for crisis preparation is now
Trollope says crisis preparation isn’t rocket science, but he feels too few organizations do it, which is why so many of them are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is the ideal time for organizations to take what they’ve learned from the pandemic and start preparing for the next crisis,” he says. He recommends business leaders turn to an outside expert such as MNP for guidance.
In a crisis, says Trollope, your organization won’t rise to the challenge so much as it will descend to the level of your preparation.