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‘A Board’s Role in a Crisis’ finds that trust, relationships and agile decision-making figure highly as key considerations when managing crises

New guide for boards for managing a crisis

Conversations with a dozen experienced New Zealand and Australian chairs, board members and chief executives has revealed six key themes that boards should consider in a crisis.

Trust, relationships and agile decision-making figure highly as key considerations when managing crises, say authors Erica Seville and Richard Ball in the newly-published guide, ‘A Board’s Role in a Crisis’. “There is no one instruction manual for a board facing a crisis,” the authors say. “But there is much to learn from past events and some key themes that can help leaders navigate through.”

The two authors from the research and consulting group Resilient Organisations interviewed 12 directors, board chairs and chief executives. Within the past 10 years, each was involved in responses to some of the most significant crises that have occurred in New Zealand, including infrastructure failure, market collapse, natural disasters, terrorist attacks and, most recently, the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Resilient Organisations specialises in helping organisations ensure they are fit for the future. The new guide is published in partnership with the Institute of Directors and QuakeCoRE, a Tertiary Education Commission funded centre of research excellence focused on transforming the earthquake resilience of communities and societies. 

The guide outlines six key themes for boards to bear in mind when managing crises. Its aim was to extract lessons learned about the role, behaviours and leadership of boards, and to capture different perspectives on the board’s role in a crisis. The directors interviewed spanned a diverse range of sectors, including banking, retail, health, electricity, transport, mining, local government and scientific research.

Being prepared is key

Institute of Directors (IoD) chief executive Kirsten Patterson says being prepared for a crisis is key. “Being prepared means constantly updating your knowledge and continually learning. Every crisis is different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. At the IoD we promote learning, we ask directors to share their experiences with others, and to be open with their knowledge. It is immensely valuable having insight that allows you to know what to consider, then adapt flexibly to the situation you face. This report is another great addition to the toolkit for directors – for any leader in a crisis.”

Institute of Directors chief executive Kirsten Patterson: “Every crisis is different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach”

Author Erica Seville says they started the project before the global Covid-19 pandemic. “Our own Prime Minister has been through three major situations in the space of a few months – a mass shooting, a deadly volcanic eruption, and the global pandemic. It seems that crises and learnings from them will be forever relevant – to equip leaders for next time,” she says. 

“We hope there is not a next time, but that is unrealistic. For us, this project and the generosity of those who gave their time to it, will hopefully provide useful guidance for boards and leaders generally,” she adds.

“Taking time to reflect on a crisis will provide valuable insight and learning, not only for your board and organisation, but can play an important role in helping other leaders and organisations to be able to focus on what is most important and can make the biggest difference during times of challenge.”

Key findings

The guide says trust and relationships are crucial, and can make or break an organisation’s recovery from crisis. Open, frequent and proactive communication to all stakeholders, including employees, is essential. “Your values are key. Leaders dealing with a crisis need to be keenly aware of how their own actions can promote or undermine important relationships,” Ms Patterson says.

Rapid, well-considered decisions in an environment of high uncertainty and risk may feel like a tall order, but are often critical. Being agile will depend on taking time before a crisis hits to discuss and agree principles that will guide decision-making when challenge hits. “Thinking about how you want to come out of the crisis will guide your strategic approach and decision-making. Having the right mechanisms in place to harness the collective wisdom of your board and leaders will also make a difference,” she adds.

Finally, the report says, be prepared, coach and guide your team, and prepare for the long haul. “Amplifying health and safety, preparing for the long haul, preparation, and guiding the team, rather than ‘playing the game’ for them, are other themes raised by contributing directors.”

‘A Board’s Role in a Crisis’ can be downloaded from the IoD website: www.iod.org.nz


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