The importance of feedbacks after a crisis.
Senior official of the French ministry of home affairs when taking new responsibilities follow a training carried out by the INHESJ (national institute for high studies on security and justice, depending from the prime minister) that includes crisis management. That lecture presents the view from the public sphere but also from the private sector. In that frame the INHESJI asked me to provide a 3-hour lecture on the feedback further to a crisis.
Besides the very interesting sharing of experience with the trainees, this sessions has given the opportunity to look back on the reason why an entity that went through a crisis should perform the feedback and how to do it. The preparation of that training, has also been humbling as I realized that I had taken part to many crisis but very few had been followed by a feedback. Actually, one of the very few I can recall for which a full feedback process has been carried out up to a formal action plan was the situation that followed the incident in Fukushima in 2011. It is a bit different for crisis management exercises that usually plan a feedback.
Firstly, the feedback will enable to check that the crisis management set-up was activated and worked properly (organization, stakeholders, equipment, best practices, communications, debriefing session). However, as important and even maybe more, the experience should be used to improve the set-up, which means that one of the goal of this phase is to come up with an action plan. In that purpose, the feedback will identify what worked well but also the processes that failed in the crisis management and the mistakes that were made. The action plan that will be designed after will have to strengthen the good practices identified and implement corrective actions to avoid repeating the same failures. In some cases preventive actions may even mitigate the risk that the same event occurs again or at least limit the impacts. The feedback phase is also an opportunity to develop a common crisis management culture between the stakeholders and to strengthen the relationship with the partners such as the authorities, security and rescue services, customers, other companies etc.). For some very sensitive activities, being able to demonstrate a strong incident/crisis management culture and involve clients (when possible) can become a competitive edge.
This being said, in order to have a fruitful feedback, it must meet some requirements. This is really important as the situation that will be analyzed has most probably been difficult perhaps shocking for the stakeholders. First the feedback is different form the debrief, which is performed when closing the crisis management cell. The feedback is a cold phase. Then the following words are crucial: trust, carefulness, professionalism, added value and simplicity. With regard to carefulness, the feedforward principles developed in HR can help. One of them consists in, especially when dealing with a negative aspect, judging facts only and avoid judging persons. I would also suggest that the person in charge of the feedback be someone that knows the crisis management set-up but was not involved in the management of the very crisis and has no hierarchical links with the stakeholders. Calling an external expert can also prove beneficial. Questionnaires can be used to ensure that no aspect are forgotten and that all stakeholders answer the same questions. In that case, anonymity must be ensured to the stakeholders in order to let them express their opinions freely. There might be surprises there for the member of the crisis management cell and the analysis by someone external becomes even more important. It is also important to guarantee an access for all to the synthesis. Last but not least, the action plan must be followed-up up to its end and information has to be provided to the stakeholder on the progress.
As said in the introduction, it is not that easy to perform a feedback after a crisis and there are other opportunities to develop this culture. Security or operational risk incidents should systematically lead to an analysis of the root causes and an action plan in order to avoid the same type of incident to occur again: the “preventive” action plan. One should notice that for some incident the analysis call be long as well as complex since the root causes can be hidden. An action plan based on a wrong root cause will not prevent that kind of incident to happen again. Another opportunity to perform an analysis leading to an action plan, is the risk mapping. At the end of the analysis a risk rated high, very high or exceeding the risk appetite of the entity should be mitigated. This requires also an action plan. Once an entity has developed the habit of performing action plans in less traumatic situations, the hope is that this habit will live after crises.