Preparing a `People Response Plan’

Interview with Janet McCulloch, Managing Partner of Leadership Dimensions with Sacha Strebe, Safety Snippets Magazine.

Janet McCullochNo matter how much planning and preparation goes in, critical incidents can occur anywhere, any time and to anyone. So it’s important every business knows how to manage them from the physical aspects to the people involved.

But just what are the phases of a critical incident response? What tasks need to be performed and what are the rapid onset issues that most emergency managers have to deal with?

Janet McCulloch is the Managing Partner of Leadership Dimensions who specialise in the performance, productivity, wellbeing, retention and development of people. She said;

“It is important to know that what may be a critical or highly stressful incident for one person, may not be for another, so we can’t assume everyone will have the same response – because they won’t. Most organisations have plans to deal with the awful ‘tangible’ or physical aspects of an incident – yet not the people side. This is our speciality – human behaviour in the arena of workplace safety. This is just as important as this has the long term effects on the wellbeing of individuals, their ability to be resilient and productive and the overall health of the organisation both culturally and financially.”

Janet adds;

“The most critical response is for everyone to know what their role is (organisation, leader, manager, team member and peer supporters) and having everyone adequately trained ensuring the ‘system’ can move from operating at ‘normal’ operational levels to ’emergency response’ levels when incidents happen. Following that, when a team member feels supported it builds resilience, loyalty and demonstrates that an organisation really ‘lives’ its values. It’s a small investment of time and money from an organisation, particularly when the alternative usually means stress claims, absenteeism, low morale and apathy that can build when individuals try to deal with it themselves or organisations brush stress under the table.”

Janet will present ‘Critical Incident Management‘ at Safety in Action Sydney from 2-4 September at The Dome, Sydney Showground, Sydney Olympic Park. We asked her how businesses can prepare; how critical incidents affect the fellow workers and company morale; and how a critical incident management plan can help.


It can happen anywhere anytime to anyone, so what does an organisation need to go beforehand to prepare for workplace incidents?

Just as organisations have Safety Management Systems, we recommend they invest in implementing a ‘people response plan’ to manage the psychological safety of those during a prolonged incident and the psychological and physical safety post incident.

You don’t turn up to work one day and instantly be put on the front line for an Emergency Response. Same for managing people during/post critical incidents in the workplace. The “people” aspect of incident management can be proactively planned for and managed without huge investment. Having a system in place to support people post incident is just as important as insuring against their physical safety.


When a critical incident occurs it affects more than the immediate people involved, it also impacts the fellow workers and the morale/culture of the entire company, how can an employer prepare their business for this? what do they need to know? And do?

Firstly, managers and leaders aren’t counsellors or psychologists; this is not their role. However they will see the impacts of a critical incident on those at work and as a leader, they do have a role when they see this. Organisations can equip their managers with a ‘tool kit’ of skills and resources to be able to identify the signals of extreme stress, a structure that describes their role, the role of the individuals, team, peers and the company and understand when and who to refer to when external specialist support is required.

When organisations don’t consider the human element of incident management, there can be a significant ongoing impact on people and the business. It can lead to stress leave, withdrawn, fragile or emotionally explosive team members, extended personal leave, lack of team cohesion, conflict, resignations, toxic workplace culture and overall reduced productivity. We also need to consider that the stress of an incident at work is often taken out at home.


How can staff training help? Or is it only the leaders that need training? What do these courses offer?

Managers and anyone leading a team can benefit from an understanding of what occurs to a person during and after critical incidents and access to a tool kit of appropriate resources that supports people.

You’d be surprised by how our bodies and brains are wired to help us deal with disruptive stress symptoms and its ongoing impact – our programs start by giving an understanding what happens to us when we experience extreme stress: identifying the physical, chemical, emotional, physiological and cognitive reactions to incidents. Once managers and leaders have an understanding of what happens, it helps ‘normalise’ what they see, then understanding the roles of each person in the organisation (and external experts) surrounding the person showing disruptive stress symptoms means they’re better equipped to support.

We have a suite of four programs: Outside What’s Normal – Managing Extreme Stress from a critical incident, Emotional First Aid – Conversations With Colleagues That Really Count, The Daily Grind – A Manager’s Role in Reducing Stress and we also work with organisations who are implementing a critical incident management plan (see below).

These skills don’t only apply when there’s a workplace accident, but can use implemented when staff are going through stressful times outside the workplace which impacts their work performance and wellbeing.


What is a critical incident management plan? How does it help?

Critical incident management plans are an organisation’s ‘road map’ for effectively responding to emergency situations and critical incidents, including mobilising the right teams and allocating the right resources to minimise the negative impacts of the incident.

These plans are vital because when an emergency occurs people need to know there’s an adequate plan in place, what their part of the plan is, and that there are trained internal and external supports aligned with this plan ready to jump into action.

When this doesn’t happen, or plans are poorly communicated or executed, people feel unsafe, insecure and angry with leaders and management, which can result in a toxic ‘them vs us’ culture instead of knowing the organisation supported and guided people through the incident, i.e. A ‘coming together’ culture.

This is a specialised field so we partner with many specialist organisations who consult to develop these plans, and then we work with organisations to implement via training, support and consulting.


You will present ‘Critical Incident Management’ seminar at Safety in Action Sydney, what can visitors expect from your presentation?

  • Understand what is a critical incident or isn’t (knowing it is different for everyone)
  • Learn about stress – healthy, unhealthy and cumulative stress
  • Discover some of the physical, emotional and cognitive responses a person will display when experiencing a reaction to a critical incident
  • Establish what you and your company can do to ensure you’re ready and able to support your people if/when this occurs

BOOK NOW for this free seminar on Critical Incident Management at Safety in Action Sydney from 10am on Wednesday September 3, 2014

First Published:  Safety Snippets Magazine  28/07/2014 by Sacha Strebe

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Check out the Leadership Dimensions programs in Dealing With Stress >>

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