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Experienced directors offer sage advice in new guide for boards managing a crisis

Media release
By Institute of Directors
3 Jul 2020
Aerial photo of surfer in waves

Conversations with a dozen experienced New Zealand and Australian chairs, board members and chief executives has revealed six key themes 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, The 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 Resilient Organisations interviewed 12 directors, board chairs and CEs. Within the past 10 years each were 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 through to pandemic responses.

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.

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

Institute of Directors 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.”

“We started this project before the global pandemic, and when we reflected that our own Prime Minister had been through three major situations in the space of a few months – a mass shooting, a deadly volcano eruption and the global pandemic,” author Erica Seville says.

“It seems that crises and learnings from them will be forever relevant – to equip leaders for next time. 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.”

“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 key. Trust and relationships are crucial and can make or break your 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.

Agile decision-making matters. Rapid, well-considered decisions in an environment of high uncertainty and risk may feel like a tall order but is 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.

Be prepared, coach and guide team, prepare for long haul. Amplifying health and safety, preparing for the long haul, preparation, and guiding the team rather than ‘playing the game’ for them (link to full report) are other themes raised by contributing directors.

Resilient Organisations Ltd is a research and consulting group passionate about building future fit organisations ready to adapt and thrive in any environment: resorgs.org.nz

QuakeCoRE is a Tertiary Education Commission funded Centre of Research Excellence focused on transforming the earthquake resilience of communities and societies. quakecore.nz

Institute of Directors in New Zealand is the professional body for directors and at the heart of the governance community in New Zealand. It connects, equips and inspires its more than 9,000+ members, to add value across New Zealand business and society. iod.org.nz

See The board's role in a crisis guide. 

For more information, contact:

Resilient Organisations 
Erica Seville
021 456 706

Institute of Directors
Sophi Rose
General Manager Brand, Marketing and Communications
027 241 2597

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