Crisis Simulations: practice makes perfect

When a crisis strikes  

A devastating cyber-attack. Boardroom conflict that wipes 20% off your share price. A marketing misstep with resultant tide of social media advocating a consumer boycott. Racist or sexist behaviour by an employee with public calls for strong sanction against the individual.

As a leader, you might not know where and when your next crisis might strike, although there are typically some warning signs in more than two thirds of corporate crises. You can take practical, cost effective steps to build organisational resilience and the ability to work through a crisis with your reputation still largely intact.

Preparing for a crisis   

A well-designed and facilitated crisis simulation is one of the most valuable investments any organisation can make to build crisis management experience, strengthen skills and identify what gaps exist in your current contingency plans.

“The most effective simulations stress-test a crisis leadership team’s decision making, response plans and communication skills and processes,” says Esme Arendse, a director of Aprio Credence, the reputational risk and resilience specialist division within Aprio. 

“While our simulations typically shine a light on some organisational ‘blind spots’ and vulnerabilities that need to be addressed in terms of policies, process, skills and structures, we also see the immediate benefits 



of a crisis leadership team that feels more confident, works better as a team and better understands and appreciates the different challenges faced by each member of the team,” says Esme.  

For fellow Aprio Credence director Alan Arguile, who has facilitated the reputation management elements of close to 100 large-scale crisis simulations, regular stress tests are an essential part of a comprehensive reputation risk and resilience programme.

Aprio Credence’s expertise    

Alan serves as the crisis management subject matter expert for a big four audit firm, and together with the firm is on the final leg of a pan-African crisis simulation programme for a leading banking group across 10 countries on the continent.

“Every simulation is customised for the client. We work with external specialists if there is a need to stress-test technical responses in areas such as cyber-security, business continuity and financial liquidity. But our focus at Aprio Credence is primarily on the risk-of-risks – reputational risk – and how crisis leadership teams respond to reputation management challenges, regardless of the scenario that has triggered the crisis,” says Alan. 

“Have you considered which priority stakeholders to engage in the heat of a crisis? Will the CEO be the face of the crisis, or will she or he be preoccupied with the role of recovery director? How do you navigate the fine line between the ‘say nothing and say it slowly’ communication strategy, often recommended by your legal advisors, and the public’s demand for ‘tell it all and tell it fast’?” says Alan. “What are the appropriate opening messages in a situation where the facts take time to reveal themselves? How do you respond in a world where everyone is a broadcaster via social media, and where fake news, speculation and rumour is so rapidly and broadly presented as fact?”

With backgrounds that span executive communication positions in leading JSE-enterprises and multinational corporations, senior journalism positions and decades in reputation risk consulting, the Aprio Credence principals have unparalleled experience and expertise to design and lead meaningful crisis simulations for leadership teams.

Our simulation experience includes programmes successfully delivered for five of the major banking groups in South Africa, as well as in the mining, insurance, broadcasting, engineering, aviation, manufacturing, professional services, retail, utilities, petro-chemical, pharmaceutical and telecoms sectors.“An effective simulation is half science, half art. 
It demands the right questions from experienced facilitators, and the right responses from the crisis leadership team. It replicates the volatile real world with all of its uncertainty and ambiguity, fake and conflicting news, and relentless stakeholder demands – but all in a safe, low-stakes environment where teams can be challenged, can learn and fine-tune their roles and responsibilities,” says Esme.