When we run Major Incidents, we issue comms to Stakeholders. It's been that way for decades. However, even the most experienced Major Incident Managers can become complacent with the why and 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.
Let's take that a step further; why do we want to establish and maintain stakeholder confidence?
It is a fundamental part of our role to instil confidence in others, so you can assure them that we and the operation are doing everything required to resolve the Major Incident. And, when stakeholder confidence is low, we see many behaviours begin to manifest that are counterproductive to resolving the Major Incident as quickly as possible.
- Stakeholders are jumping onto your bridge call and trying to take over control.
- Stakeholders are going direct to Technical Resolving Group members, pulling them away from the bridge call and stopping them from working on a resolution.
- It is escalating to leadership. Leadership then has to enter dialogue with the Major Incident Manager / wider team.
- Too many stakeholders / non-contributors are joining the bridge, making it hard to manage.
There are many more, but all of these slow down the swift resolution of a Major Incident, undermine the Major Incident Practice and cause chaos in information flow. We need one source of information; if many side conversations start, you end up with different understandings of where we are and what's happening, creating confusion.
It is important to clarify that although we observe these behaviours from stakeholders, they do not do it to make your life harder. At least 99.9% of the time, they do it from a place of good intent.
They want the same thing we want - a well-managed major incident that is dealt with and resolved quickly and effectively. By the nature of Major Incidents, there is a heightened level of concern for the business and its customers, as there should be. These behaviours manifest because 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 should have done 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.
Does your head of service management want 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 than to sit back and tell stakeholders, "my Major Incident team is exceptional. They've got this. Let them do their thing."
I should caveat this. Sometimes there are legacy issues - 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 was not great. Stakeholders may take time to adjust and be comfortable letting go of control or working in new ways. This requires giving them time and ongoing conversations to get there.
Why do we formally communicate
The two reasons we formally communicate and issue comms:
- To get action
- To impart information
To get action:
This one is self-explanatory. Although it should be said, you must be clear if you are asking for action. That may be engaging the operational teams. It should always be clear and understandable.
To impart information:
This is the one that catches many people out. When we are issuing comms, we are largely 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 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 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 two hours, and we have hourly updates to the stakeholders, who are not in our world and don't see all the action or the hard work going on behind the scenes. They need to understand why some actions may take hours. 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.
First of all, always consider your comms updates. Are you doing one of the two 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 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 information we have not shared and 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 valid 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 ensuring that the Major Incident progresses effectively.
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