2 reasons we communicate (formally) during major incidents

Major Incident command centre


When we run major incidents, we issue comms to Stakeholders. It's been that way for decades. But even the most experienced major incident managers can become complacent with the why, and with the content of their communications.

Why do you think you communicate during major incidents? Take a moment. What is the purpose?

Hopefully, you got something along the lines of, Stakeholder confidence. To establish and maintain stakeholder confidence.

But let's take that a few steps further. Why do we want to establish and maintain stakeholder confidence?

Well, because it is a fundamental part of our role, to instil confidence in others, so they can be assured that we and the operation are doing everything required to resolve the major incidents. And, because when stakeholder confidence is low, we see many behaviours begin to manifest, that are counterproductive to resolving the major incident as quickly as possible. 

For example:

  • Stakeholders jumping onto your bridge call and trying to take over control.
  • Stakeholders going direct to Technical Resolving Group members, pulling them away from the bridge call and stopping them from working on a resolution.
  • Escalating to leadership, leadership than having to enter dialogue with the major incident manager / wider team.
  • Too many stakeholders / non-contributors joining the bridge, making it hard to manage. 

There are many more but, all of these essentially slow down the swift resolution of a Major Incident, undermine the Major Incident Practice and cause chaos in information flow (we want one source of information if lots of side conversations start you end up with all different understandings of where we are and what's happening, which in turn creates a lot of confusion).

Now. It is important to clarify that although we observe these behaviours from stakeholders they do not do it just to make your life harder. I promise. At least 99.9% of the time they are doing it from a place of good intent.

They want the same thing we want. A well-controlled major incident, that is dealt with and resolved quickly and effectively. But, by the nature of major incidents, there is a heightened level of concern, for the business and for its customers, as there should be. The reason these behaviours manifest is they are trying to get confidence in the running of the major incident, which we as the major incident manager have failed to give them.

Something we did or did not do has meant they are not confident in the management of the major incident so they are taking action to make progress and create their own sense of confidence. 

Do you really think your head of service management wants to be pulled away from all of the other tasks they have to do, to help deal with escalations or drive a major incident forward? No, they would love nothing more to sit back, and tell stakeholders, my Major Incident team is exceptional, they’ve got this. Let them do their thing.

Side note:

I should caveat this. Sometimes there are issues with legacy. Meaning, you come in or a new major incident team is set up, the standard is excellent, and everything is managed well but, the previous major incident team were not great. Stakeholders may take some time to adjust and be comfortable letting go of control or working in new ways. This is just giving them time and ongoing conversations to get there.

Major Incident Comms 

Why do we formally communicate

The two reasons we formally communicate and issue comms:

  1. To get action
  2. To impart information


To get action:

This one is self-explanatory. Although it should be said, you need to be clear if you are asking for action. That may be engaging the operational teams. It should never be ambiguous or misunderstood.

To impart information:

This is the one that catches many people out. When we are issuing comms, most of the time we are trying to impart information. We are informing stakeholders of what is happening, and what actions we are/going to take. Ultimately we are demonstrating progress towards the resolution to instil confidence and keep them informed.

What happens when you issue a comms update that says the exact same thing as the last one?

All the negative stakeholder behaviours manifest. Leadership may join your bridge call and ask for status updates, they may start trying to take over and drive the Technical teams forward, escalations from customers may start to come in, and people start going direct to the technical teams and pulling them off the bridge call.

Why? Because they didn’t see any progress. Even if that update was justified, nothing has changed, the action was always going to take 2 hours and we have hourly updates, to the stakeholders, who are not in our world, they don’t see all the action, the hard work going on behind the scenes. They don’t understand why some actions may take hours. And, for some stakeholders, their only touchpoint and source of information may be that single comms update. If that is all they see and it demonstrates no progress then of course their confidence may be knocked when the business might be losing hundreds of thousands or millions of pounds each hour.


 Major Incident Bridge call


The solution

First of all, always consider your comms updates. Are you doing one of the 2 things? Getting action, or imparting information.

Second, the stakeholder mindset, think about them, and their reactions. One or two key people may need an individual phone call every now and again to maintain their confidence. This isn’t possible for all stakeholders but a key customer representative or the service manager/director for an affected account etc. Over time if handled correctly those people will have more trust and confidence in your consistent performance and may not need that anymore.

Next, always impart information.

That may mean giving them new information. We are usually at the top level of what we share with stakeholders via comms. That means there is usually plenty of information we have not shared, additional actions taken or we are planning on taking. Even if the main action is to wait another hour for a key action to be taken, lead with that the current activity is still underway then add the new information to the update.

We are never dishonest with our comms, so the actions must be true and accurate but it is simply dropping down a level of information that gives them, new information and a feeling of progress. This in turn helps to prevent behaviours they take that slow down the resolution of a major incident. We are managing their confidence and we are ensuring that the major incident progresses effectively.




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About MIM®

MIM® is the professional body dedicated to developing, managing, and delivering our qualifications in The Global Best Practice IT Major Incident Management®.

We work with leading organizations around the world to unleash their talent and effectiveness. We are shaping the future of Major Incident Management. With clients in more than 90 countries, including the world’s largest business and consumer brands, we drive major incident innovation to protect businesses.

Adam Norman is the Founder and CEO at MIM®. He is the world’s leading expert in The Global Best Practice IT Major Incident Management®.


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