Death By Committee

Erik Bernstein Crisis Prevention

How Some Well-Intentioned Meetings Increase the Risk of Crises

Committees can be very useful for hearing different points of view, working out details of plans, and building consensus.

Committees can also be the inadvertent cause of completely preventable crises and/or exacerbate the damage from unpreventable crises.

I remember around the turn of the century (damn that makes me sound old), many Japanese business interests in the United States, when faced with a crisis situation, seriously delayed effective response because of a national business culture where consensus building is so important.  They learned, the hard and financially painful way, to instead entrust crisis-related response in North America to their executives and consultants stationed there.

Even if not institutionalized nationwide in North America, consensus building is the preferred culture at many American firms.  Which is admirable except when it impedes prompt mitigation of critical vulnerabilities that can cause and/or exacerbate crises.  When we engage in a vulnerability audit for clients, the first step towards developing effective crisis plans, we divide vulnerabilities into Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3.  Tier 1 basically translates to “take care of this quickly before your ass falls off.”  Tiers 2 and 3 are lower levels of threat.

Yet sometimes for months after critical vulnerabilities have been identified, sometimes committees still meet to discuss issues that should have prompted a CEO to say, “Fix this.  Now!”

There is a critical place and part for committees in the crisis preparedness process.  But don’t commit Death by Committee.

Jonathan Bernstein