Learning about Risk in a Global Pandemic e16230670257791

The Upside from the Downside Niall Duffy Forestall Risk Management’s Founder talks about what we can learn about Risk and Crisis Management from the last 18 months.


This global pandemic has impacted us in ways that, although identified and discussed in advance, we did not really accept.  We knew that it would happen at some stage, but we could not transfer that into real preparations.  It was a problem for tomorrow.  And yet, once it occurred ways of working that had been ideas or proposals became reality within days.   Despite the loss and havoc that COVID 19 has wrecked throughout most countries, there are clear lessons that we have identified. 

Now is the time to turn lessons identified into lessons learnt, and embed them into our approach to dealing with this and other known and emerging risks that we will face in the years to decades ahead

Getting to good with speed is better than eventual perfection:

Plans will always change once contact is made with the real world.  There will be changes to what we prepare to do, some micro and some major.  The benefit of plans is in the experience it gives to the organisations in planning – and knowing when the plan is good enough.  Using a good plan in time is better than a perfect solution with time running out.

Act as well as horizon scan:

We knew this was coming, but yet we had expertise, plans and resources that we hesitated with.  Some of this was based on how novel the virus was, so the approach was wait and see.  However, some of the problems in our response was as simple as the language used. 

“What could we do?”, as opposed to “what will we do?”. 

Now that we are transitioning from global lockdown to reopening, there will be a temptation to ‘put it behind us’.  We want to look forward – that is both in our nature and desirable.  But doing so with language and thinking that is sharpened from our most recent ‘big risk experience will allow us to respond more effectively. 

Simplify the language around risk. 

Get it to be a discussion from the bottom to the top. Adjust ‘could’ to will’.

Trust your plans or Replace them:

Consistently, when crises materialise, plans are barely referenced – apart from activating some top-level teams.  Management is used to using their experience to solve problems every day, so why refer to a plan when a big problem comes their way? 

Plans do not replace thinking, but they can help you shorten the time between decision points.  And one thing that crises do is steal away time. 

If you do not trust your plans, then challenge and replace them.  Allow the testing, exercising, and contesting that your management team undertakes to repair or replace these plans.

Follow through on lessons identified:

Internationally, governments and organisations had been running pandemic rehearsals for many years.  These rehearsals identified many gaps/lessons, with supporting recommendations. However, many of the key recommendations were not widely implemented. The lessons were identified – not learnt.

Not every recommendation is going to be implemented.  But prioritise those that must – labelling them as identified until such time as they are embedded into practice.

Encourage (Imaginative) Dissent:

Collaboration in preparing for key risks is essential.  But so is the dissenting challenge.  Risk management is seldom if ever associated with the creative, but this is what is required to best prepare. 

Practicing dissent within our risk preparations can ensure that we are looking at alternative outcomes, not just the ones most favoured. 

When responding to a crisis, ‘Red Teaming’ proposed solutions can provide an alternative assessment as to how things may pan out.  Doing this as part of the process is not stalling for perfection.  When teams know that this is part of the preparation, they become more open to challenge, depersonalising it and engaging with the creative.

To find out more about our Simulations click here.


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