In recent years, particularly since the beginning of the pandemic, the concept of improvisation in crisis management has become increasingly relevant. This health crisis experienced by the entire world has indeed disrupted the operations of many companies, organizations and institutions of all kinds, and they have had to deal with many unforeseen events.
Improvisation is a component that I am increasingly addressing in my tests and exercises with clients.
What do we mean by improvisation?
First of all, improvising does not mean that we don’t know what we are doing in a crisis situation. There are many variables that can influence the outcome of the situation, and therefore, managers and experts do not have absolute control over it. This is where improvisation comes into play, where you have to react and adapt continuously to the changing situation. Improvisation means that managers and experts know what they are doing, but they do not know the outcome that will be obtained.
Let’s take a simple example to illustrate this: an experienced race car driver is about to attack a curve. The problem is that his visibility is severely reduced due to a heavy downpour. Even though the driver is well trained and knows his car inside out, many external factors beyond his control can occur at any time, such as a vehicle in his blind spot, a flat tire, a mechanical problem, skidding due to an oil patch on the road, etc. The moral of the story is that it is impossible to control every variable in a crisis situation, no matter what its nature. Therefore, you must continually adapt.
Here is another, even more concrete example of improvisation during a crisis and at more than 300,000 km from Earth: NASA’s Apollo 13 mission. This mission aimed at landing two men on the Moon in April 1970. The mission was completely bungled following the explosion of a tank and a succession of serious damages. It was transformed into a rescue mission in order to bring back the crew alive, and this, without being able to send a rescue ship. During this mission, the air began to be stale and the crew could die due to the lack of oxygen. The engineers on Earth had to improvise a solution using only the materials available on board, and this, in record time. All these specialists knew what they were doing, but they did not know the results they were going to obtain up there because they were not there. They could not exactly reproduce all the conditions on board, including the condensation on the equipment, their reliability at that moment, the fatigue and the stress of the crew.
Improvisation in the context of tests and exercises
When I invite my clients to improvise during a test or an exercise, the objective is to allow them to follow the procedures established in the various plans (crisis management, business continuity and emergency measures), to practice applying them in a concrete situation as well as to learn how to continuously adapt to changing and unpredictable elements.
In short, the crisis management plan allows you to anticipate hazards and react as quickly as possible in the event of a disruption. It serves first and foremost as a reference point and structure for companies. Nevertheless, approximately 15% to 20%* of unknown and uncontrollable factors can occur during an emergency situation, which is why it is important to take into consideration the notion of improvisation.
Are you looking for expert support to set up tests and/or exercises with your team? Benoit Racette Services-conseils inc. has the required experience in the implementation and development of test and exercise programs and in training. We can help you plan and execute them, while respecting the realities of your business. We can also accompany and guide you during a real crisis situation. Contact us now: [email protected].