Incident Micromanagement – Good or bad?

Feb 24, 2017

After attending the Scottish Continuity Resilient Scotland Conference, Charlie shares his thoughts on incident micromanagement and the Government’s response to the travel chaos caused by heavy snowfall in 2010.

Yesterday I attended the Scottish Continuity Resilient Scotland Conference at the RBS Headquarters in Edinburgh. The opening speaker was John Swinney MSP, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. He began by talking about the need for resilience in Scotland, as well as the risk from cyber attacks and how we must all do our bit to protect our organisations from threats.

Outside the conference room Storm Doris was in full force, prompting questions about the severe weather. This discussion led to John Swinney mentioning the heavy snowfall of December 2010, which left hundreds of motorists stuck in freezing cold conditions overnight. He said that this situation should never be allowed to happen again. I’m not quite sure if this is because of the poor people left freezing in their cars, or because the Minister in Charge had to resign as a result of the incident!

One of the innovations the Scottish Government has implemented since the incident, is location finding equipment on each gritter lorry, allowing John Swinney to see exactly where every gritter in Scotland is at any one time.

I was surprised by this and wonder if it is a good idea for those managing at the most strategic level to have situational awareness of minute detail? When I am teaching incident management, I always say that members of the strategic team should not have direct communication with those at the operational level. All communication should go through the tactical team, otherwise those on the ground at an operational level will not know which person to listen to and what set of instructions to follow.

If those at the John Swinney level have access to the location of every gritter lorry, would they not try to interfere and redirect the vehicles to another area? Yet the Deployment Manager for the gritters knows their local area, where resources can be most effective, and have a tried and tested deployment plan. The danger is those at the strategic level thinking that they know better than those whose job it is.

In the same way, we see lots of action films where Special Forces are sent in to free hostages, while the generals watch the troops carrying out the attack in real time via video link from their bunker or headquarters. Should the generals be looking at this footage, with the chance that they might try and intervene in the situation or misinterpret what is going on on the ground?

I am still convinced that micromanagement is not good and generals should pace the bunker waiting for the commander to report the success (or otherwise) of the mission, instead of listening to the action as it happens. Technology makes this easier, but in the end I think strategic managers should keep their thoughts and interactions at a high level, letting those experts on the ground get on with what they know best.

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