Factoring Human Behaviour and Organisational Culture Into Crisis Design


Most crisis management programmes are built using generic or standard components (tools, procedures, team structures etc) drawn from emergency management and PR. Rarely are programmes designed with the specific characteristics of the users in mind such as their decision-making style or organizational culture. Yet, we know from experience and research that crisis leaders and teams working under crisis conditions don’t adhere to "generic" approaches when they don’t align with, or at least accommodate, their natural style and culture. Ill-fitting procedures (and safeguards) feel like a straitjacket under pressure and are quickly contoured or abandoned, leading to poor decision-making and disastrous performance.

Given that using generic components has many advantages but that some customization is usually necessary, the question is how to best go about it?

I would advise using standard templates and processes as the blueprint for the overall design of the crisis programme (and its key components) but all ill-fitting procedures, structure, or tool should be replaced with a custom piece to avoid a meltdown on crisis day - and that custom piece should be made using design-thinking.

Design thinking, when used correctly, is effective for building user-centered components that won’t be rejected by the leader or team on crisis day. Factoring human behaviour (under pressure) into crisis design is crucial and design thinking can do just that. Using design-thinking to create bespoke components may be more time consuming and expensive on the front-end but the improvements in user-adoption, reduction in training time and improved performance during a crisis certainly provide a better return on investment.