Lessons From Norway

I’d like to take a break from our debt issue, even though I’d love to discuss the Iranian redistribution of wealth that was praised by the IMF, and discuss what managers can learn from the Norway tragedy. All of us are saddened by the horrible event that occurred in Norway. Our prayers go out to the families and nation impacted by this selfish and horrific situation.

In my management classes at Warner Pacific we always discuss the four functions of management. The four are planning, organizing, leading, and controlling. Every manager learns the importance of planning. This usually involves a discussion around strategic, tactical, and operational planning. In class we will discuss how at  all levels of planning there is a need to  review contingencies and ensure a minimization of what is called the escalation of commitment. This means that managers have created a poor plan, but continue to dump resources at the plan to ensure that the plan is successful. Managers will do this because it is their plan, and it just has to work. Another topic we explore during this section of the course is crisis management. If a crisis occurs, such as an earthquake, etc, how do we ensure the safety of employees and resumption of operations?

This discussion will often look for the Black Swans that could devastate the company resulting in complete failure within six months or less. An example of a Black Swan would be weirdos flying airplanes into buildings. In other words, something so crazy that it would never happen, at least on paper. Strategists will look for those events that could, out of the blue, put the company out of business. With the changing global environment this contingent planning exercise is becoming more prominent. However, I want to focus on the first part of crisis management, which is what does the company do if a crisis occurs. This would be an earthquake, or God forbid, someone comes into your facility with a gun and starts shooting.

Many companies will create plans for these events. They will make sure safety kits are strategically located, emergency personnel are always on duty, and evacuation areas identified (for an internal or external evacuation). What happens if this type of planning does not occur? The police response to the Norway tragedy demonstrates what happens when you don’t plan ahead.

The Norway police took ninety minutes to respond to the shooting on the island. The killer was shocked that it took so long for the police to arrive. He thought he had minutes, and was surprised that he had ninety of them. Why did this occur? First, why did the police have to drive forty kilometers by car to the port and take a boat to the island? There was only one flight team for the response helicopter, one team that was on vacation. Second, when they got to the port to take the boat to the Utoya Island, the boat broke down.Ninety minutes, which to the young people being assaulted was an eternity.

I am not the first to criticize the Norway police for this, and everyone knows we have had our issues with responding to tragedies (Katrina). But the  police response to the criticism coming from many different directions was very interesting.  They stated that they are professionals, but “they are also flesh and blood.” So the criticism stings. I’ll bet they will be better prepared next time (which hopefully never occurs).
It is often these first generation failures that cause change. If a company or a government is smart, they will have contingency planning sessions. These sessions will look for the Black Swans. Management needs to be ready for what is happening as well as what may happen, at least as much as they can due to uncertainty.

And that is my thought for the day!


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