How Often Should Your crisis Management Team Train?

Recently, there was a great discussion on the frequency of crisis management exercises in a forum I’m part of. What was most surprising to me was the degree of consensus on the ideal tempo. 

The vast majority of folks recommended a quarterly & annual frequency.

– Quarterly low-intensity tabletops focused on skills development and team cohesion.

– Annual high-intensity simulations to reinforce learning and test teams and systems in a realistic environment.

(What was wonderful was that no one suggested one-off annual exercises, which are only suitable for checking the ‘training’ box and burning up a lot of cash in the process.)

I agree with this quarterly/annual approach but also like adding monthly ‘booster’ sessions (like a lunch and learn) on a specific topic or skill. This cadence aligns with the ‘little and often’ approach that you need to maintain a skill: imagine going to the gym or taking a piano lesson once a year and expecting any noticeable improvement.

However, getting a management team to buy into what seems like a lot of training time can be tricky, so how can we sell the idea of frequent training?

Getting Buy-in for Crisis Management Training

First, you need to know what kind of time you’re asking for. Don’t reach for your calculator just yet, I did the math for you.

  • Monthly one-hour sessions – 12 hours
  • Quarterly training and exercises x3 – 4 hours each, 12 total
  • Annual exercise and training – 8 hours
  • Total 32 hours

Note that this is the requirement for the crisis management team. Some teams will be doing much more crisis management-specific work in between, but let’s use 32 hours as the time commitment for your management team.

Now we have that number, let’s put it into perspective.

Comparative Values

First, let’s assume a work year is 49 weeks of 40 hours, making 1,960 total hours.

Thirty-two hours is 1.6% of the work year.

Next, imagine that a manager drinks three cups of tea or coffee daily, each taking 10 minutes to fetch. (Even if an EA does that, they still need to get rid of the coffee later). There’s much more time lost in context switching, but let’s keep it simple and say that this is half an hour per day. 

That means managers spend 122.25 hours per year getting coffee. (30 minutes per day, five days a week, for 49 weeks). 

Now you can make your case in one of three ways.

First, the insurance angle. 

You’re insuring your corporate reputation for an investment of 1.6% of your leadership’s time. No matter how much your leaders’ time is worth per hour, that’s a tiny amount compared to the market cap of your firm. This is an excellent investment if you imagine the huge percentages that even a moderate-sized crisis can knock off your company’s value.

Second, the time comparison. 

Your managers spend well over 120 hours getting coffee each year: almost four times as much as they’d be investing in crisis readiness. Suddenly, the time investment seems trivial.

Third, the fiduciary duty. 

(This has nothing to do with the time investment, but it’s always helpful to have a legal backstop to make your case.) 

The final reason is that it’s their job. There is a bit of a lag here between the perspective of leadership teams and where the law seems to be going, but it seems clear that there would be a robust case for a charge of negligence if a leadership team hadn’t prepared adequately for a crisis and something went wrong.

The fiduciary duty of Boards is well understood, and even if you have a narrow view of simply maximizing shareholder return, that means minimizing risks.

“The fiduciary duty of the board is to promote the value of the corporation. In fulfilling that duty, directors must exercise their business judgment in considering and reconciling the interests of various stakeholders—including shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, the environment and communities—and the attendant risks and opportunities for the corporation.”

Martin Lipton, Karessa L. Cain, and Kathleen C. Iannone, Wachtell, Lipton, of Rosen & Katz, in the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance blog 

However, recent cases have expanded that responsibility into the C-Suite, as the ruling against McDonald’s former CFO shows

So, if your arguments about the time investment and the coffee comparison fall on deaf ears, you can always make the governance and responsibility case. This approach always feels like waving a big stick to me, so use this with care, as executives don’t like feeling threatened. However, the General Counsel might be very responsive to this argument, so test this approach with them beforehand and see if it sticks.

What’s the Alternative?

Alternatively, put aside an afternoon, get your leadership team together, and set $30,000 or $40,000 on fire. This will cause a great deal of stress, much confusion, and make you no less able to respond to a crisis.

Just like a one-off annual exercise.

This might seem like an exaggeration, but I can’t think of a single time when I’ve seen any notable improvement in a team that only exercises annually. Usually, the same problems occur to the point where you could simply change the date on last year’s post-exercise report, and it would remain valid.

Arguably, a one-off annual exercise can even be damaging as it can give an organization the sense that they’re ready for a crisis when they’re not. That misplaced confidence will come back to bite them when things go sideways.

If you enjoy preparedness theater and like crisis management LARP-ing, then an annual exercise will get that out of your system. Otherwise, opt for the quarterly cadence at a minimum and prepare your argument(s) beforehand so you can make a strong case for making this vital, albeit relatively tiny, investment in crisis readiness.

(Please don’t keep this a secret! You probably know someone who’s struggling to make a case for spending more time on crisis readiness, so please share this with them.)

What do you think? Leave a Reply