Fear or Preparedness?

By Guy Higgins

I watched a show on television last Friday evening. The show was about fear. The message was that we (that would be human beings) tend to be afraid of many things – things that we shouldn’t be afraid of. It got me to thinking, because I agree.   We should not be paralyzed by the fear that a homicidal maniac will invade our workplace or that some new (or even old) disease will strike with pandemic impact. The likelihood of either of those events is small – very small.

Am I saying that we should simply ignore the potential for those events? Absolutely not! Whether it’s a business, a school, a church, some other organization, a family or even one person, we should not ignore serious risks. There is, however, a difference between unreasonable fear of some danger and recognizing and preparing for that danger. Continue reading

Freeze, Flee or Fight? Training Makes the Difference

By Guy Higgins

On August 20th, three young Americans, a United States Air Force airman, an Oregon National Guardsman and a university student, all friends, were on a EuroRail train when a man armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, a 9mm handgun and a boxcutter entered their car and attempted to shoot passengers.

The guardsman elbowed the sleeping airman and said, “let’s go.” The next seconds are history. The three Americans tackled the armed man, disarmed him, knocked him unconscious and, with the help of a British businessman, tied him up. They then tended to injured passengers. Continue reading

Band-aids or Cures?

By Guy Higgins

On July 27th, Emergency Management published an article that quoted an Allstate Insurance survey in which two-thirds of parents, although personally affected by a disaster, did not know about their children’s school’s emergency plans. Forty-two percent did not know where to find their children if the school were evacuated because of some disruptive event.

Those are alarming results. If those results were presented to a Parent-Teachers’ Association, the most likely results would be a decision to publish information in the Parents’ Handbook or send information home with the children, or publish the necessary information on the school website.

Problem solved? Not so fast! Continue reading

Who’s “On Deck”?

By Guy Higgins

Recently Sitoru Iwata, the 55-year-old CEO of Nintendo died unexpectedly. Nintendo is facing some critical decisions. Should the company stay the course with a console-only strategy, or should they begin to develop games for smartphones and tablets? Or, should they move in an entirely different direction altogether? Those decisions are complex ones, and choosing their next CEO is very important. Just as important as Apple’s choosing Steve Jobs’ successor. The difference, of course, is that Apple knew for some time that they would need to replace Steve Jobs. Nintendo does not have that luxury of time.

Naturally, that brings up the topic of succession planning. That’s a topic that immediately brings to mind the image of senior executives trying to figure out who should be their successors when they (the senior executives) are promoted (because no senior executive ever thinks that she’s going get fired or die in her office). Certainly having a succession plan for senior executives is important, but I’ll boldly assert that it is no less important to understand who all the critical non-executives are and how those key people will be replaced if they leave, retire or die. Continue reading

Knowledge Continuity

By Guy Higgins

The knowledge that resides in your company – both in your people and in your processes – is one of your most important assets. The loss of this knowledge at a critical time could cripple your company. It is extremely important to plan for Knowledge Continuity.

Knowledge Continuity planning needs to be done from an integrated perspective – covering both planning to maintain company knowledge assets during times of normal operation (business as usual) and during disruptions (business as unusual).

Knowledge Continuity also needs to be considered along three distinct “dimensions”: Continue reading

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

By Guy Higgins

Recently, meteorologists forecast that a huge winter storm would hit the Mid-Atlantic and New England states with snowfalls as much as two to three feet. First, a bit of background here. I’ve lived in Northern Virginia, New York City and southern Maine. Winter is very different in all three locations. Winter in northern Virginia is a nuisance. It’s cold and wet, but it is seldom dangerous. However, two inches of snow can paralyze the entire Northern Virginia/Washington DC/Maryland area with drivers stranded and many auto accidents. Winter in New York City is similarly cold and wet, but traffic in the city is terrible in the best weather. Unlike many cities and all suburban and rural areas, there is nowhere to put snow. The snow is trucked into New Jersey – a difficult task when there is snow blocking many of the roads and streets. Winter in Maine can be brutal with high temperatures below zero for days on end and many feet of accumulated snow. That said, in two and a half years in Maine, I never missed a day of work due to bad weather or snow-clogged roads. When you live with it, you know how to deal with it. Continue reading

Communicating in a Crisis – Tarnishing Or Burnishing Your Brand

By Guy Higgins

On December 28th, AirAsia flight 8501 was flying from Surabaya to Singapore when it disappeared from radar.  The disappearance of AirAsia 8501 immediately brought to mind Malaysia Airlines flight 370, which disappeared on March 8th of last year.  While there has been no resolution of the fate of Malaysia Airlines 370, we now know that AirAsia flight 8501 crashed and all aboard were killed.

Both of these losses were immediate crises for the respective airlines, both affected over one hundred families and both drew enormous public attention.  However, the effectiveness with which the two airlines responded to these crises and communicated with the public, the families of passengers and the authorities differed enormously. Continue reading

The Economics of Preparedness

By Guy Higgins

I’ve been listening to some of Thomas Sowell’s work lately.  Dr. Sowell is an economist and the Milton and Rose Friedman Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute.  He proposed a definition of economics that I like very much.  According to Dr. Sowell, economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses.  Essentially, he is saying that economics is not about what to do with the one rubber hose gasket that you have – it has a single practical use (even if it were rare, which is the case only when your hose coupling is leaking and the hardware store is closed).  Economics is, however, about whether or not to buy a rubber hose gasket with your money when you have several other pressing needs for which the money could be spent.  Obviously, this simplistic example is for a single person, but much of economics (macro-economics) is about the sum of individual resources, needs and decisions. Continue reading

Coming In Out of the Rain

By Guy Higgins

Storm coming - freeThis photo is an actual photo – no Photoshop involved.  The amazing thing is the people who remain standing on the beach as this ominous storm approaches.  The question is, “Why aren’t they getting out of the way of the storm?”  In a similar vein, on July 11th, my two partners, Rob and Jennifer Freedman, were driving through Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) on their way to the annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  Afternoon thunderstorms are common in the Rockies this time of year, and locals (defined as folks familiar with living in and around the mountains) try very hard to avoid being out in the open up in the mountains after, roughly, noon.

Rob and Jennifer found themselves stuck in a traffic jam that lasted two hours.  The traffic jam was caused by emergency responders reacting to lightning striking a group of hikers.  Unlike the people on the beach, these hikers had seen the thunderstorm building and were hurrying back down the hiking trail to get out of danger.  They had gotten nearly to the trailhead when the group was struck.  Unfortunately, one woman was killed and several other members of the group sustained serious injuries, including broken bones.

This tragic event has frightening similarities to many business and operations scenarios.  Organizational leaders know that disruptions happen – just as the people on the beach know there is a storm on the horizon.  Like the people on the beach, some leaders do not take action to “get out of the rain.”  They appear to take the position that the storm won’t hit them.

Other organizational leaders, like the hikers in RMNP, see the storm coming and know that it could hit them, but they wait too long to react and move to “get out of the rain.”  Some organizations will survive their “lightning strike” by luck, as the uninjured hikers did.  Some organizations will sustain serious injuries from which they may or may not ever fully recover.  Some organizations, like the unfortunate woman on July 11th, will not survive.

It’s also important to recognize that had the hikers turned around sooner and safely gotten back to their vehicles on the 11th, they may still have been struck by lightning, and may have experienced fatalities – but those are not the odds.  Luck does favor the prepared, and hope is, in fact, neither a plan nor a strategy.

Just as it pays enormous dividends to be prepared when hiking in the Ricky Mountains, it pays those same kinds of dividends to be prepared in business.  Predict the likely threats, identify the impacts, develop plans to mitigate or respond to those threats, identify triggers to act in time, and perform – getting out of the rain without getting wet, or at worst with a plan to get into warm dry clothes.

This is all about leadership – whether it’s one person on the beach, a group hiking in the mountains, or an organizational leader seeing and responding to threats on the horizon.


Should the President Be Playing War Games?

By Guy Higgins

Okay, first, this is NOT a political blog, and I’m not going there, but on March 25th, I was watching Greta Van Susteren’s On the Record.  I normally enjoy watching Greta because she is pretty polite (by the standards of radio and TV talk shows, she is incredibly and unfailingly polite) but she doesn’t let guests get away with not answering questions.  They dodge and she presses.  Then she lets her guests actually answer – she doesn’t pontificate to them.

Anyway, on the 25th, she reported that President Obama, at the G-7 summit in Brussels, was engaging with the other G-7 heads of state in a war game aimed at possible Russian actions in Eastern Europe.  Greta appeared to be incensed that the President would be wasting his time (and our money) playing games!!  She asked her audience if we thought that the president should be playing games.  Well, I was incensed. Continue reading