A practical exercise in crisis management

Some readers may be beginning to tire just a little of the tales of heroism some of us (me included) are inflicting on colleagues as we explain how, in defiance of volcanic ash and transport woes, we have managed to get back in to the office.

(Thanks for asking: stranded in Milan, I got a sleeper from Verona to Paris - grazie mille Fiorella Passoni of Edelman’s Milan office – and then found a suddenly available seat on the last Eurostar out of Paris last night.)

I finally got home at midnight, three days later than planned. Not nice, certainly, but not quite the nightmare others have suffered. I only had me to worry about. I managed to fit in a couple of decent meals too.

The more interesting point here is that thousands of us have been undergoing a practical exercise in crisis management. The familiar, steady-state world has been interrupted. We have been plunged into confusion. How have we coped?

“Not too badly”, is probably the answer. We have improvised. Meetings have been cancelled or rearranged. New technology has been used to allow work to continue. Some have taken welcome if unexpected holiday. And we have had a healthy reminder of the fragility of our gleaming and seemingly resilient world.

What particularly interests me is what happens to our decision-making process at times of great stress. How can we be sure we are thinking clearly? Are we really drawing on all our intellectual reserves, or are we making badly thought-through blunders? Are we, in fact, just panicking?

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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