Chartered Occupational Psychologist Cubiks
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Crisis at work
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How is personality linked to performance in crisis management?

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9th May 2016
Chartered Occupational Psychologist Cubiks
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In a changing world the threat of attack on organisations and public safety is ever present. Organisations need to prepare and equip themselves to deal with this threat.

What is a crisis?

A crisis event could be anything from a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, to a technological crisis or a man-made event such as a terrorist attack. There are three common elements to a crisis (Seeger, Sellnow, & Ulmer 1998):

  1. A threat to the organisation
  2. The element of surprise
  3. A short decision time.

Crisis management is the process by which an organisation deals with a major event that threatens to harm the organisation, its employees, stakeholders, or the general public.

Prompt action, communication and allocation of resources are critical elements in minimising the negative impacts of a crisis.

Crisis management training

A number of both government and commercial organisations set up crisis management teams to deal with emergency events.

The team is usually selected from individuals within the organisation.

In order to respond to different types of events, they will often use a range of simulations to prepare and train the crisis management team.

Feedback is provided to the team after a simulation event to help improve performance, but is often limited to whether the procedural tasks listed on the crisis management plan were performed or not.

Prompt action, communication and allocation of resources are critical elements in minimising the negative impacts of a crisis.

Does personality play a role in effective crisis management?

The research conducted by international assessment and development consultancy, Cubiks, sought to examine the role that individual personality can play in effective crisis management.

Through understanding the role that personality plays, a richer and more in-depth level of feedback can be provided to crisis management individuals that will help them understand their own behaviours and decision making-processes, and ultimately improve performance during a crisis.

Through assessing the personality of 82 crisis management team members with psychological assessments, such as PAPI, and examining their performance during crisis simulation events, Cubiks were able to identify key characteristics that could influence performance.

The simulation events were held with organisations from construction, energy, transport and political industry sectors.

Analysis revealed a number of personality factors that were related to performance in crisis management simulations.

The results suggested that those willing to take the lead, with a calm disposition, a preference for variety and working together are most likely to perform well in a crisis.

The results from this study suggest that personality assessment can make a useful contribution to identifying and selecting individuals that are most suited to crises management roles.

It can also help to provide individuals with a more detailed level of feedback in order to understand their own reactions and behaviours under challenging circumstances, and to inform future training programmes.

The key areas to assess are:

  • Extraversion
  • Leadership
  • Group orientation
  • Emotional stability

Those that are socially confident, influential and comfortable taking the lead are most likely to perform well in crisis situation.

Being able to communicate and work well in a team is critical to managing crisis situations, as well as remaining calm under stressful circumstances.

 In addition, other important areas to assess are:

  • Ease in decision making
  • Work pace

In a crisis, the situation can change at a very rapid pace.

New information can arrive at any time, which may change the course of action that needs to be taken and shifting work force allocation. Individuals need to be able to assimilate this information and make decisions that could have far reaching consequences in a short space of time.  

Some unexpected results that emerged from the study were:

  • Variety seeking
  • Conscientiousness (low)

During a crisis, the situation may be changeable and  ambiguous.

Therefore individuals that are able to cope with ambiguity and change maybe more effective during a crisis. Individuals that have a high need to follow rules and be supervised, may find managing a crisis more challenging.

Those that are too analytical may also find emergency situations challenging – overall too much conscientiousness could get in the way – certainly in emergency situations.

References and further reading:

Choi, J. N., Sung. Y. S. & Kim, M. U. (2010). How groups react to unexpected threats? Crisis Management in Organizational Teams. Social Behavior and Personality, 38 (6), 805-828.

Flin, R. & Slavin, G. (1994). The selection and training of offshore installation managers for crisis management. Health and Safety Executive – Offshore Technology Report, OTH 92 374.

Seeger, M. W., Sellnow, T. L. and Ulmer, R. R. (1998). Communication, organization and crisis. Communication Yearbook 21: 231–275.

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