When a crisis is happening communicators are busy. Busy finding things out, doing things and hopefully planning things. For many though, the thought of spending valuable time review and debriefing things is not on the ‘to do’ list. You may be wondering why it is important.
Start by thinking how long the last two weeks feel. From the 23 March when the UK went into a form of ‘lock down’ to the moment now when you are reading this feels like more than just two and a half weeks. In fact, like many people I struggle to remember what I did on those first couple of days. So imagine, as a communicator if you had to assess those decisions and actions that were done in the first seven days, could you do it?
The reality is that over time your memory will fade and you will lose the clarity you have at the moment of decision making. This is why carrying out ‘hot debriefs’ is so important. They can be done to fit the amount of time that is available and should be focused on gathering as much detail as possible. You can then review this at some point when you have more time.
With the situation looking as though it may last for some time I would be looking to put some regular time in each week or two weeks to carry out a ‘hot debrief’. Remember these are not supposed to take the place of a formal debrief and review once you are moving out of crisis and into recovery. They are meant to help inform this larger debrief which will involve all those sections of the business or organisation that worked on the crisis.
How to do a ‘hot debrief’
- Explain to those who will be asked to take part the purpose of a ‘hot debrief’ which is about learning and not blame
- Ask communication staff to provide short answers to the three key questions
- Start with five things that they felt worked well
- Second ask them to state five things they felt could be improved
- Finally, ask for five things that could be done differently
- If this is done through email then collate the information and keep it in a file so you can add further debrief documents to it in the coming weeks.
- If you decide to have a video conference with people structure the meeting so that once a point has been made you move on to another and people add but don’t restate points
- Ensure if this is a group meeting that you have a note taker to capture what is said
- Make sure people know how they can add to the document if they suddenly remember an important point
All the information that you gather will become invaluable in the future when a detailed debrief is undertaken. When you bring all the information together you will be able to update the crisis communication strategy and plans, and ensure that you make the most of the learning that has taken place. This may feel like a long way off at the moment but it is essential to start considering how you will make sure you capture all the detailed learning from this fast-moving and challenging experience.
If you need any advice about ‘hot debriefs’ or how to run a more detailed debrief just get in touch. I discuss the issue of debriefing throughout my book Crisis Communication Strategies that is published on 3 May.