Season 2: Episode 12 – Crisis Management and Recovery
Jason West: Welcome to the Underscore Transformation Podcast, my name’s Jason West and for a change, this week I’m joined by Lucy Finney in place of Joe Ales. As mentioned last week, we’re going to focus on crisis management and recovery, not least because that’s where we all find ourselves these days.
In the space of a few short weeks life across the globe has changed beyond recognition over one quarter of the planet’s population is in lockdown, healthcare professionals on every continent are treating thousands of people with complications from COVID-19 and 10s of thousands of people have already sadly lost their lives.
Away from the frontline, large parts of the global economy have been shuttered, schools closed, millions of jobs lost, and those of us lucky enough still to be employed are working from home struggling to adapt to working with children at our feet, and grappling with new technology, and teams that are under quite significant stress.
The speed of change has been dramatic, and the need to process a torrent of new information, adjust, and adapt is pressing on every aspect of our lives. Together we face really unprecedented levels of uncertainty and that really urgent need to solve complex novel problems that demand really difficult trade–offs between competing priorities. Decisions have to be made in real time, based on incomplete information with the very survival of our organisations on the line.
If you found that your business as usual processes and systems and teams have been really stretched to breaking point by this crisis, we’re here to offer help. And the good news is that there’s a way through it, and there is a proven crisis management process that can help you steer a course through to recovery.
Joining me today is Lucy Finney who heads up the leadership development side of our organisation to talk us through the Crisis Management Recovery Toolkits that she’s built, actually over a number of years, but more specifically in just the past few weeks.
Lucy is a former British Army education and training services officer, she has a Masters in the design of information systems and over 25 years experiences of learning and development consultant, executive coach and business transformation consultant. During her military career she was awarded an MBE for the strategic transformation and modernisation of training in the British Army, and it’s fascinating to have you on today Lucy. Thanks so much for joining us. But before we delve into talking about crisis management and all that entails, it would be great if you could share a bit about your background and career because you’ve got quite an interesting story to tell.
Lucy Finney: Yes, thank you for inviting me to take part in this podcast. So I grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, where fighting and bombing etc. were kind of the norm. They went on all around me and there we’re very character building very early on. That kind of inspired me to get very interested in the psychology of how people survive difficult situations. From that I decided to go to Loughborough University and get a degree in PE, sports and recreation management, and I did that because I just loved sport. I played a lot of National League hockey and I was also into outdoor pursuits in a big way. And when you combine that with studying the science of sport, I was really introduced me there which was the psychology of sport. I got really fascinated in that. And fascinated in leaders in the sport context, and how people demonstrate leadership behaviours in difficult situations, and under stress.
That’s spun me off on a new direction, I always had an outdoor pursuits background and I was a caving an instructor and a climbing instructor and outdoor hill walking instructor. I kind of went on expeditions very early on.
Jason West: What sort of age where you then?
Lucy Finney: The first expedition, or the first thing I did was to walk the Mourne Walk in Northern Ireland which was a massive walk for charity, all over the Mournes, over 26 miles. That spun me off into thing called Operation Reighley, which even just the qualification to get on that was amazing, where we had to do all those kind of things you see young speaking people do today. I was 20 at the time and we had to build rafts, you know, go out into cold lakes, dive down for things at the bottom of the lakes, do all these kind of nasty things you have to do with lifting maggots from one bucket to the next. It was my first taster of what stress actually is, but I love that. I was really into that challenge.
Jason West: And these are lakes in Northern Ireland?
Lucy Finney: Yes. So even in the summer it was very cold, and very horrible. But you know what, I came out of that I was actually filmed and it was on TV, and I came out of it and I just said “do you know what if I only ever went on the on the recruitment part for this, that was enough for me, because that was just fantastic I really loved it.” I really love getting in and mucking in, being part of that. And that kind of really showed me that I love that outdoor challenge, because I think that’s somewhere that stretches you when you’re younger, physically. And it gets you into that kind of challenge, and you keep trying and you want to beat your personal best, and get better, and you want to achieve things, and I just loved all that.
That kinda then took me to: “logically what’s next?” So I signed up for the Army and I thought I’d just go in there for three years, and ended up in there for 16 years so actually a whole career in it. I started off looking after junior medics in the Army, and then moved on to between commander and so on, and then in the middle, I actually did a Masters in design of information systems, and that took me into looking after command and control information systems on battlefields. That took me into war zones, and took me to new places, with most of my operational experiences around the Balkan area, so I would be time in Croatia and in Bosnia, at a time when they were still shooting at us.
I saw it where people had totally experienced devastation they had no money, no banks, no homes, no where to live, no means to make heating. It blew my mind. What I called normal was definitely not normal, and this really took me on a path that asked “how do these people develop the resilience to actually survive in that context?” The things I saw people do were amazing.
I also saw it in Africa, I went in there for an operation for the United Nations, and I saw the kids were particularly resilient. Every day they used to come to our gate and they would try and sell us stuff, and after a while we realised they were actually going off – this is awful to say – but they were going off to the dumps where we were dumping what we thought we did not need, they were picking it up being highly creative, and bringing it back and selling it to us as a new product. And some of it was incredibly creative. I just thought it was amazing, and it’s stuck in my mind really strong.
I then got into designing battlefield command systems, and that really helped me understand how complex information is. When you are entering an environment, as the military call it, you know it’s a term that’s spun out today, people may have heard of today called VUCA. But the military uses the term that stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous situations. When you go into chaos, when you go into operational theatres, when you go into crisis situation, and your job is to first of all, get people through that crisis, and then start to help them rebuild.
So if you combine all my experience, right from the Troubles, through Loughborough, my love of sport and outdoor pursuits, through seeing these people on these battlefield situations, to trying to design systems that could try and help us manage the flow of information in these really unknown situations. And then subsequent to that, to end a long story, I am now a practitioner in eight different psychometrics, so I apply business psychology, and I’m very into taking that learning from the sport, the outdoor, the Army, into tough projects and situations in businesses, and that’s kind of what I’m passionate about now.
Jason West: And I can’t believe we’ve actually not ever discussed this, because as I mentioned at the start you have an MBE, so you have met the Queen. She has awarded you with a high honour of state. So how did that come about, and what was it like?
Lucy Finney: Yeah that was a fantastic moment. I’ve actually met the Queen of a couple of times. There are fun stories in some of them – that’s for another podcast I think – but the ones that you’re referring to, is where both my educational career and my systems career came together around the year 2000, those were the days when the internet first came along, and I kind of realised very early on that this could be harnessed to take education out into the world. But it actually spun out of a need, where we had a situation in the military where you used to have to take so many doctors out of the operational theatres to do refresher training, and this actually meant operations had to stop. And I mean battlefield operations had to stop while they did this. So we took the Internet and said “can we create something that can be sent virtually, over the Internet, and can we connect up with these guys in theatre, so they don’t have to come out, so we don’t have to stop operations?” I spent three years studying it, three years building it, three years connecting it, we transformed it and it went on to become what’s now knowns as the Defence Learning Environment and it’s still going today, which I’m proud of. But it went out and it delivers a huge volume of training and it’s more important than ever and delivered training around the world.
Jason West: Yeah, and for anybody that’s leading a transformation programme now, if you could point back, however many years ago that was now – it started in 2000. So that’s 20 years ago, so something that you worked on 20 years ago is still in operation today and being used. I think you must be one of a very small handful of people that could point to something like that, because, typically, these transformation programs work for a while but then the next thing comes along, and the next thing so that’s absolutely fascinating.
We’re not here to talk about transformation, though, because the real thing that we’re all kind of focused on right now is the crisis at hand. So first up, what is crisis management? What are we talking about when we talk about crisis management?
Lucy Finney: Sometimes we classify different situations: we may have a simple situation where we know what’s happening and the reasons for it, and what’s going on and therefore we can approach things in a sensible, structured way. But as situations start getting more disordered, they get more unknown factors in them, they get more confusing, speed comes into the factor, things are changing a lot rapidly around us, time is of the essence. You start to get a condensing of all of these factors, and it’s beyond the complex situation. It’s a situation where there’s many, many uncontrollable items, many, many uncontrollable things going on around it, and it’s got a need, because often life can be at threat. And I say ‘life’ because it spins out of in a real crisis management scenarios, in battlefield operations, or response teams.
But you do have the same in business, where it’s just so many factors, and things have got so complex that the business could go into crisis, the business could collapse and it’s the same life or death kind of situation. But it’s life or death of the business and its finances. So a crisis is a mixture of unknown, unstructured, uncertain situations which are rapidly changing around you, and there’s the need to make decisions fast. You have to make them in a fast time scenario, but they are also critical: they’ve got high impact, these decisions that you make, and that makes a crisis scenario.
Jason West: Absolutely. I think there’s also a human element to it as well, an emotional element to it as well, is it that you’ve got teams of people. They are often acting from a position of fear, it’s a high stress, highly emotionally charged environment. And I guess the Army and military forces train for it, they’re ready for it, they’ve got ways of managing it, and they spend years training people to cope and manage in these situations.
So what are some of those core concepts, core things you can take from the Army’s approach, for example, to how they manage?
Lucy Finney: So what I’ve designed and what I brought together is a mixture of both what’s in the Army but also things that I have learned since leaving the Army. Because I’ve worked in situations early on in my business career, I did a lot of exercise management and I did a lot of operational analyst type work on military exercises, where we were supplying equipment into them, where they were trying to run disaster scenarios. So, for example, what will happen in the case of a global warfare? We even studied, four or five years ago, what would happen in the event of an outbreak, of something like this pandemic? Like war games.
[Intermission: you are listening to the Underscore Transformation Podcast. To find out more about our crisis management and recovery leadership program, visit underscore–group.com/cmrtoolkit.]
Lucy Finney: And also, I was part of simulations before the Olympics began, where it was looking at how all the response teams would operate together. Now, when you bring all of that together, the critical elements in there are things like, “how do you bring, first of all safety; it’s always safety first. Then it’s how do you bring people, how do you help them to feel not just safe physically, but safe mentally, very quickly, so that they will perform as a team?”
Then, once they are there as a team, and they are with you fully in the moment, the here and now, it’s “how do they then work together to understand what is going on around them?” All this information, and all this misinformation that’s going round whether it be in a battlefield, or it being a fire control centre for the fire brigade, or in the NHS right now, in a critical support unit. You need facts, facts. What are real facts? What are false facts? What are the things, that information that we need to manage this scenario?
So, it’s very important, I think, to be able to create a common operating picture, understand yourself and your performance under pressure, being able to bring control and command to that situation, so you can coordinate a response.
Jason West: And in terms of putting together the Crisis Management and Recovery Toolkit and programme, that you’ve done just in the past few weeks, drawing on your experience and real operational experience, what are some of the key outcomes that people can expect from applying a properly structured crisis management process to any crisis that they’re managing?
Lucy Finney: With any crisis, I think one of the most important things is to be able to make decisions quickly, and safely. So, the first thing is: improved decision making capability. Because that really is where everything comes together, in that.
The next thing is, if you make a mistake, because we will make mistakes – we’re all human – it is to have that attitude that you will learn fast. And what does that mean? What do I need to do to learn fast? The military are very, very good at this because they will go through immediate after–action reviews, subsequent reviews, they review, review, review so they learn and change.
Then there’s things like building more resilient teams. So how does a team work together quickly? And a team isn’t a single team all the time; teams change all the time. It’s about suddenly you’re coming together as one team, and you need to be that high performing team for that task. It could be the survival of that patient in a Coronavirus end state, or it could be an operating theatre team. It could be a command team to coordinate a response to a big road traffic accident, that still happens. Different teams, different people, different times, coming together and gelling really, really quickly.
And part of that is that you are always going to have problems to solve, so it’s learning about problem solving, learning about creativity, learning how to solve things quickly, learning about how we work our way through problems. That will all improve by learning some of these tools. And at the end, that will have an effect of reducing some of your risks in the operational scenarios you’re in.
Making sure you use your resources at their best, optimize the use of, often scarce, resources and then ultimately getting through that, so you can, whatever the scenario is, built with recovery.
Jason West: I think one of the things that’s been really fascinating, coming from the world of business transformation, into what is quite new topic for me: crisis management, incident response, these sorts of things. The thing that is really surprising is the real pace of how quickly you’re getting people together, and you’re processing intelligence, information. It would be interesting if you said a bit about how that how that process of managing the crisis actually works in reality.
Lucy Finney: OK, so, what will happen in the military is they will go into any situation, where there are so many unknowns, they will immediately establish some form of base camp. And that base camp, the very first thing is literally put up your tables, put up your computers, gather information on the situation and understand the picture of what’s going on.
That’s where you get your command situation in position, so you understand where everybody is, and what’s happening around you. Then you have got to think about how do you control this situation and how do you bring control to that situation? And that’s what a lot of the military training is about it. It has a lot of procedures, and it has a lot of fast techniques to help you get through into that situation where you’ve got control of what you can control, and you build out to take control of more.
Then it’s a lot of coordination: we need to get the troops out on the task, we need to get them moving and doing what they need to do. I need to learn from as much as possible from the troops on the ground. And then I think it’s about communication, because without that, if you don’t have the flow of information, then information is useless. It has to flow around, like a living thing going through the blood, it has to go through the whole organisation. We need to connect. And in a military scenario, that can be what they call ‘the battle space’ where it’s connecting ships, connecting aircraft, connecting up the whole mechanism, satellites, you name it. And it’s complex communication; but we need to do it and we need to get out there.
Jason West: And how have you taken, what is a battle proven approach to managing highly complex, highly volatile, uncertain situations, and applying it to the commercial sector?
Lucy Finney: Two things to note: all that knowledge that I’ve just described has been put into what we call our Crisis Management Toolkit. That is designed to try and help businesses restabilize, and help businesses get into a flow that is necessary in order to manage the current crisis, and then move towards recovery.
On top of that, we’ve also combined with and included our mental toughness programme, which is about getting the right mindset. Getting people to be able to be confident in what they do. Getting people to be able to speak up, and to feel safe in speaking up, because that’s very, very important in the crisis scenario. And how we can get people aligned and moving together in one direction, and for people to kind of have that attitude of “we will overcome this, and we will move forward.” And when you put that mental toughness and the mental training together with the process of how you set up a mission, how you do what we call C4 leadership, how you move through the DNA of a crisis situation, when you put those together and that’s our Crisis Management Toolkit that we talk about.
Jason West: Part of our crisis response, as a business, to the pandemic has been to move as much of our delivery online. So in the training and development world, moving those programmes online. From your own personal perspective, what’s it been like going from a largely face to face delivery to 100% online?
Lucy Finney: There’s a philosophy that we teach in other programmes, it actually comes from the Stephen Covey Foundation, it’s called teach to learn. In the process of thinking “How do I teach all of this stuff that I have, when I would normally do it in the classroom? where I would learn by teaching?” So I’ve had to go through the process of taking all of that stuff, where we have got really useful resources, I’m sitting in a room full of resource, a lifetime of resource here, but I’ve had to think “How do I get that through a portal on my computer? How do I get that into a virtual context?” And obviously I‘ve been working this way for 20 years, I‘ve been working for a long time in this this virtual field. But there is there is a difference, and I think some of the very early lessons that I’ve learned is you that you go to some webinars and it’s very much they give a speech, they give you talk and there’s no connection. And I think you get it should be very much a two–way interaction, and that’s actually a form of learning called ‘constructionist learning.’ You need to interact to learn in certain situations, in particular you need to interact.
And I’ve only been delving into this for three weeks here, but for those three weeks I’ve had to learn, how do you get that interaction online? And how do you get that interaction virtually? What I’ve learned and evolved is to use multiple tools at the same time, so I’m perhaps presenting some information, and doing what used to be called a blended learning. People will get information to read in advance, I will teach them stuff, we will have an interaction, I will use other tools, where maybe there are certain people who don’t want to even speak through the computer or can’t, as they haven’t got video, and haven’t got a microphone. So, we’ve had to overcome all of these over three weeks. But by using other tools, where they can download certain apps onto the phones, we can ask them questions, we can also see how people are and that’s really important. How are people feeling before we embark on this? Because some of this stuff that we’re doing is quite tough, in terms of it makes you think about yourself, think about your performance, think about your mental attitude, and in tough times that’s a hard thing to do.
It’s a great learning opportunity, but it’s hard. So people need to be able to communicate in their way, whatever that may be, for example by just writing a question through an app that I will receive another way, by answering a survey, by bursting online making a speech, whatever it is they want to do. To move from face to face to this, I’ve had to think very carefully about how I bring all of what I would do in a classroom environment into the digital environment.
Jason West: Yes, absolutely. And as tragic as the situation is, and as worrying as it is from a kind of personal health, and family perspective. It’s actually been a time for bursts of massive creativity and having to learn new things, really, really quickly, and apply them. And just come up with completely new ways of working, and it’s been a fascinating experience. If it wasn’t vaguely terrifying, it would be really interesting.
Lucy Finney: Yeah. It sort of does remind me of that, when I sit here talking about classifying situations, and that is exactly what happens in a chaotic situation, or a crisis situation. It’s all novel practice and you just have to adopt an attitude of trial and error. “I’ll just go try it.” And as long as you have an attitude that “I will learn.”
I’ve recently been reading from a piece that from an American psychologist, who says, you have to just realise there’s no such thing as failure right now. We all just have to come together for humanity, and work together, and learn. Just do something. You don’t know what the results will be, but that’s OK. I think I used to be very fearful, at the start when I was a trainer, that this session is never going to go my way, people won’t engage. But I’ve been constantly surprised with what people come up with when given the opportunity.
Jason West: It’s definitely been an interesting three weeks, I have to say. But we now have something that is ready, it’s out there, it’s something that you can book onto via the website. If you want to find out more go to underscore–group.com/cmrtoolkit. I’ll put a link in the show note of this episode.
But to leave people on thought, Lucy, for those out there that are struggling to deal with the crisis that’s in front of them right now, what are those key thoughts to leave them with? Something that they could apply in their own lives from listening to this podcast.
Lucy Finney: I think what I’d say is we’ve all got a level of mental toughness and resilience. Everything that has happened in our lives up to this point has given us a level of that. And we all have strengths; just use those strengths right now, but accept that you do perhaps have weaknesses. Don’t focus on those, focus on your strengths. Don’t focus on the things you don’t have, focus on the things that you have. And just do not worry about trying some things out. And don’t worry if you fail; there are processes there, ready for when you’re ready to engage with them. There’s help there to connect to, when you’re ready, and you do it at your pace when you’re ready. So I think that’s the kind of message that I would say, and that we are here to help. I’ve put all this stuff together because it’s very much something that I want to share, and I hope to see people come along, and we can work together to get through this situation.
Jason West: Thanks so much for that Lucy. And I think that’s excellent place to end this week’s podcast. I’m sure we’ll get you back and talk about other topics, I think probably mental toughness is going to be an interesting one, especially in these times.
So, thanks again for your time today and will have a think about what we might do next week. We don’t know yet because we haven’t figured it out in this chaotic situation.
[OUTRO: Thanks very much for listening, we really appreciate your support. If you have any questions or opinions you’d like to share please contact me, Jason West on LinkedIn, or via our website underscore–group.com]