Lessons from a crisis: A living manual

Do not lose the institutional memory of these events. Use the lessons we have learned for the future, and we will have better and stronger organizations for the next generation of leaders.

Contributed by Jennifer Cronin, president, Wharf Hotels, Hong Kong

I wrote the following paragraph as part of my crisis leadership doctoral studies, published in “Tourism Crisis and Disaster Management in the Asia-Pacific” in 2014:   

“The ‘global village’ has become even more connected, and crisis events today impact a wider group of communities, across regions, borders and continents. These events now cover a broad spectrum of political, environmental, technological and health issues from both man-made and natural perspectives. These events can quickly gather an uncontrollable momentum on a global platform of communication interconnectivity. There has never been a greater need to provide insights and theoretical updates in the field of crisis management in order to prepare society, organizations and individuals with the tools to deal with a crisis event in the most effective way possible.”  

Getty Images
Getty Images

These words have never been truer than they are today. The title of my contributing chapter was “How does crisis leadership influence effective crisis readiness?” – and upon reflection, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to better understand crisis preparedness and its impact on an organization. 

We are seeing today that leadership actions at the time of a crisis event can contribute to, eliminate or mitigate a crisis by being proactive.

These crisis events can be better managed if leaders have the ability to think the unthinkable. Although managers may be able to think critically, the challenge is whether leaders have the conviction, ability and foresight to engage in crisis planning when faced with the demands of their daily business operations. 

The leader’s past experience with a crisis positively influences an organization’s level of confidence and trust in that leader’s decision-making process during the crisis. Establishing an ongoing communication and training program that is “lived and breathed” must become a natural progression.   

An informed organization will be able to meet the crisis event head on with the knowledge and confidence that their crisis leadership capabilities will reduce the negative outcomes and ensure sustained business continuity.

Crisis leadership efficacy is accelerated when institutional memory is formalized, it is vital to document the lessons learned. My study concluded that a “living manual” be initiated to address any gaps or complacencies. Utilizing your crisis experience knowledge base will also benefit the organization with a tool kit to ensure sustained business continuity for the long term. 

This crisis will pass and we will return to a new normal, but we should not forget the lessons we have learned and the importance of a Living Manual.