Crisis Management


44694639_mWhilst awaiting publication of the Mazars Review, I have mused over Southern Health’s Crisis Management Skills: skills that are described at length on Wikipedia. Here are some extracts and comment.


In ‘The crisis manager: Facing risk and responsibility’ [1997], Dr Otto Lerbinger of Boston University categorized eight types of crises. Southern Health falls into category 5 – Crisis of organizational misdeeds.

In ‘Ongoing crisis communication: Planning, managing, and responding’ [1999] Professor WT Coombs  of the Nicholson School of Communication at University of Central Florida observed:

“Crises occur when management takes actions it knows will harm or place stakeholders at risk for harm without adequate precautions.”

In ‘The crisis manager: Facing risk and responsibility’ Lerbinger specified three different types of crises of organizational misdeeds:

“Crises of skewed management values

Crises of skewed management values are caused when managers favor short-term economic gain and neglect broader social values and stakeholders other than investors. This state of lopsided values is rooted in the classical business creed that focuses on the interests of stockholders and tends to disregard the interests of its other stakeholders such as customers, employees, and the community.”

“Crisis of deception

Crisis of deception occur when management conceals or misrepresents information about itself and its products in its dealing with consumers and others.”

“Crisis of management misconduct

Some crises are caused not only by skewed values and deception but deliberate amorality and illegality.”

In ‘Leadership as (Un)usual: How to Display Competence In Times of Crisis’ [2007], Erika Hayes James, an organizational psychologist and Dean at Emory’s Goizueta Business School, Atlanta identifies two primary types of organizational crisis, which she defines as:

“Any emotionally charged situation that, once it becomes public, invites negative stakeholder reaction and thereby has the potential to threaten the financial well-being, reputation, or survival of the firm or some portion thereof.”

It is evident that James would categorise Southern Health’s position as a, ‘Smouldering Crisis’:

“They differ from sudden crises in that they begin as minor internal issues that, due to manager’s negligence, develop to crisis status. These are situations when leaders are blamed for the crisis and its subsequent effect on the institution in question.”

James categorises five phases of crisis that require specific crisis leadership competencies.

Each phase contains an obstacle that a leader must overcome to improve the structure and operations of an organization. James’s research demonstrates how leadership competencies of integrity, positive intent, capability, mutual respect, and transparency impact the trust-building process. Questions on each of the 5 stages for Southern Health:

Signal detection: where was Southern Health’s leadership when loud alarm bells were ringing?

Preparation and prevention: it is too late for Southern Health’s leadership to prepare for and prevent the current crisis.

Containment and damage control: reverting to James:

“Usually the most vivid stage, the goal of crisis containment and damage control is to limit the reputational, financial, safety, and other threats to firm survival. Crisis handlers work diligently during this stage to bring the crisis to an end as quickly as possible to limit the negative publicity to the organization, and move into the business recovery phase [my emphasis]

Far from containing and controlling damage, every step NHS England and Southern Health have taken to delay and/or discredit the Mazars Review has resulted in loss of containment (i.e. leaks and extensive adverse publicity) and increased reputational damage, thereby unleashing further opprobrium on the leadership.

Business recovery: Southern Health cannot even to start recovery – until they stop digging themselves even deeper into the existing hole.

Learning: Impossible for Southern Health under the current executive leadership – they’ve had over 4-years of ‘learning opportunities’ already.

Crisis leadership:

James also identifies five leadership competencies which facilitate organizational restructuring during and after a crisis:

  • Building an environment of trust.
  • Reforming the organization’s mindset.
  • Identifying obvious and obscure vulnerabilities of the organization.
  • Making wise and rapid decisions as well as taking courageous action.
  • Learning from crisis to effect change.

Crisis leadership research concludes that leadership action in crisis reflects the competency of an organization, because the test of crisis demonstrates how well the institution’s leadership structure serves the organization’s goals and withstands crisis.

On ‘Linking Crisis Management and Leadership Competencies: The Role of Human Resource Development’ (Advances in Developing Human Resources)] [2008], James notes:

Developing effective human resources is vital when building organizational capabilities through crisis management executive leadership.

Readers can make their own judgement on Southern Health’s crisis management ability and award their own star rating to Katrina Percy and others amongst the leadership in respect of the five leadership competencies – after 4-years of ‘learning opportunities’.

Once more I must credit Wikipedia.

Note for Katrina Percy: during your extensive training, did  you go to sleep  during lectures on Crisis Management? I suggest reading the full text at:  where you will find source references too for further ‘learning opportunities’.

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