Managing Stress and Personal Risk in Critical Events

Executing critical enterprise events can be incredibly stressful and, for those involved, place a lot of pressure on both their professional and personal lives. For managers, there is also a high level of personal and professional risk in accepting accountability for the success or failure of the event. Critical events include IT Release Management, Crisis Management, Data Migrations or even enterprise-wide Disaster Recovery Tests.  The common thread is that they all require management by people who are both SMEs and highly experienced leaders, often identified as the “Key Person Dependencies” in mature organisations. Due to the scale and complexity of their work, it is critical that these people receive the best support available to achieve success.

So what makes critical events so stressful, what are the consequences, and how is it possible to reduce stress for your teams?

The Power of Information

One of the major stress factors during a critical event is the lack of any real-time status. It is highly likely that critical decisions will need to be made reactively and with only limited data for reference. For example, knowledge of the current status of an event is often only as good as the last conference call which, in essence, is simply a roundup of the things that have happened in the past hour. Having real-time status provides much greater control, reducing the risk and stress involved in decision making. Stress can also affect the judgement of even the most diligent event manager and can ultimately have an adverse effect on the wider team, diminishing morale and reducing engagement - leading to even more risk and stress!

When real-time data is unavailable, event managers have to rely on their own personal experience and instinct to support their key decisions and to satisfy the needs of senior stakeholders. This increases their level of personal risk as they are now making commitments that feel both personal and professional in order to allay the concerns of stakeholders about how the project is going and if it will finish on time. This can lead to a significant fear of failure, as a failed event could lead to the loss or impairment of critical systems and services, which would negatively impact clients and create the risk of negative media attention. In financial services there is also the backdrop of FCA Conduct risk that demands that these types of events are carried out with integrity and due diligence, to safeguard both the organisation’s employees and clients. Failed events can lead to blame, disciplinary action, or even dismissal. Stress can have a further cumulative effect when events take place across consecutive weekends or failed events have to be repeated. The result of this is fatigue and burnout, increasing risk and stress even further.

The right tools can help managers to remain properly informed and in control. Real-time status enables greater proactivity and problem prevention, rather than reactive responses when unanticipated issues arise. Event managers, although highly experienced, still require the support of good tools and data to help make informed and rational decisions. Greater control reduces risk, and therefore reduces stress.

Supporting Key Individuals

Due to the importance of these key individuals, businesses need to consciously work towards reducing their stress and creating healthy coping mechanisms in order to prevent stress-related mistakes and illnesses. These people are expected to make high-risk decisions in the difficult moments of an event without the burden of their responsibility and accountability being appreciated, and so need to receive a sufficient level of management support. Sponsors and stakeholders can often be primarily focused on their own goals and objectives associated with the successful outcome of an event, with only limited appreciation of its scale and complexity. It is in the company’s best interests to provide key people with the support they need, including mentors and, if necessary, access to health experts.

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