There is often a discussion as to what format the exercise should be. Some sponsors want a no-notice mega event’ to ‘test’ people. The Sponsor wants to expose people to the full blaze and reality of what a crisis would be or their perception of what a crisis would be like. The conversation normally runs through a dialouge to understand the level of preparedness and then to council a WALK, JOG, RUN , SPRINT programme. Competing in the Olympics requires training and involves the ‘heats’!
Exercising is a soft skill area and we are in the business of building capability, not making executives feel very uncomfortable and destroying confidence. The attached diagramme shows an example of the range of exercises that can be used to meet the objectives. ISO22398 provides some more guidance as well.
So this post provides some thoughts developed over many years and perhaps over 150 exercises. Running an exercise that achieves a postive participant response is not the issue, achieving an exercise that enables appropriate challenge and learning to build capability is the goal we seek. We do not want the response: ‘that was a lot of fun, a fantastic experience’, but when asked what was learned and how it can be applied, the participant is at a loss for words.”
As precious resources are committed to exercising we need to be deliberate in the way we create the learning experience that will enable participants to ‘fix’ their learning. The exercise design and subsequent debrief should provide a way of capturing what was really learned by participants; whether this learning was intended; and what actions could be taken in order to improve.
As a designer and facilitator at the front of the mind is “we are dealing with live, sensitive, human beings and to never assume that the participants will automatically learn what you intended for them to learn”. It is therefore the responsibility of the exercise designer to ‘engineer’ the learning opportunities and enable free and frank interchange so that people can identify their learning and determine potential actions. If learning is not ‘fixed’ in people’s minds then the test of actually providing an effective learning experience has failed.
Design – beginning with the end in mind. In developing exercises to promote learning opportunities, the design and approval of the objectives is foremost in the creative process. The second aspect is design of the most appropriate vehicle to meet the objectives and the third is effective facilitation. If we are seeking exercises that enhance performance and build confidence, then the design of a suitable vehicle will require ‘in-built’ flexibility to enable the rate of input and learning opportunity to be gauged as appropriate to the participant’s progress.
The design of objectives should be tested through to the outcomes required; and the evaluation criteria defined. If the required learning at the individual, leadership and / or collective level is defined at the outset, then the best method of achieving this can be provided. This approach sometimes leads to solutions not normally associated with crisis manaement or BCM exercising, such as scenario planning and two- or three-sided games. For example, a financial sector organisation recently adopted a multiple scenario planning approach with the business teams, rather than running a more traditional simulation exercise. This bank had identified a need for the business to understand that wider capability improvements were needed. The strength of this exercise lay in the business’ ability to learn concurrently from four scenarios rather than the usual ‘one’ – an approach that was driven by a focus on what were the practical learning opportunities required.
In exercise design, we are creating the experience. We need to enable participants to reflect and arrive at their own observations; to form mental models and for there to be opportunities to apply and test conclusions (KOLB theroy). In practical terms, this is to:
- Create an ‘appropriate’ experience(s)
- Assist participants to reflect
- Debrief to develop mental models and ‘fix’ learning
- Report the conclusions, so that actions can be developed and tested for adoption by management
Only by designing the exercise with the end in mind, is it possible to ensure that the construction of the exercise has the right structure and evaluation criteria to best enable people, not only to reflect on their learning from the experience itself, but to ‘fix’ this learning so they can draw on this if needed for real!
In summary, as a crisis or BCM programmes become more mature, a change of emphasis takes place – transitioning from validation to performance improvement. As such, the exercise design requires more developed and sophisticated thinking to really deliver the best learning opportunities. Assurance of these programmes needs to become more specialised and rigorous if they are to add real value to the management of risk (known and unknown). In addition, the design of exercises needs to provide much more than an interesting experience; rather the learning should be enabled by design and suitable facilitation; while the design of the mechanisms and processes to capture and fix the learning of participants, leaders and teams are key. Progressive challenge is required, so WALK, JOG, RUN , SPRINT – not straight into the Olympics trialthalon!