Whenever a headline making disruption occurs, as in the case of British Airways over the weekend, the stricken company is going to immediately fall under the scrutiny of all manner of commentators and experts quickly offering their views on cause, prevention and optimum responses. This is natural and commonplace but watching the news coverage from the comfort of an armchair is very different to actually dealing with the situation with all the stresses and pressures involved.

I actually have some sympathy for BA – I bet there are lots of other airlines currently seeking assurances from their teams to ensure they are managing the same risk effectively.

So, my article is not about British Airways per se, but is actually about a couple of key aspects that frequently crop up in crisis events, this one included.

A line in the BBC coverage read, ‘On Saturday passengers described “chaotic” scenes at the airports, with some criticising BA for a lack of information.’

In my training events I refer to this problem as the Communication Dichotomy. When an incident or crisis occurs everyone wants to know what has happened. ‘What was that?’ ‘What should we do?’ ‘Where should we go?’ ‘Are we sure?’ In other words there is huge demand for information. Sometimes the information is very clear but sometimes it is not, sometimes incorrect information or assumptions arrive first, sometimes there is no information which results in a void into which all manner of speculation will be presented. Demand outstrips supply.

The challenge for incident and crisis management teams is they too are affected by this dichotomy. They too have questions, they need reliable information, they need to validate sources and facts before making decisions. The supply (of reliable, factual information) can take time to establish. Supply can be slow to build.

No one, from the incident or crisis teams, through to front line staff will want to say anything that is incorrect, inappropriate or possibly even dangerous so for a period of time they can do no more than put out holding statements to reassure stakeholders that the situation is being dealt with, but at least they are communicating and engaging.

Patience doesn’t last long and a large crowd of people in a confined space armed with mobile devices, all wanting to be somewhere else and with no robust information has the potential to become a volatile situation. Doing nothing is not an option.

The nature of the event last weekend meant that conventional, taken for granted, communication methods were also compromised so this would raise challenges for any organisation.

My first point is therefore to think about how communications would need to be delivered for a range of scenarios and what messages can be offered at each stage.

Another quote that caught my attention in the coverage was ‘the GMB union had suggested the failure could have been avoided, had the airline not outsourced its IT work.’

Suggested? Could have? We will never know.

In my experience, the outsource provider or supplier is contracted to, and indeed should be managed to deliver a service or product to defined standards and quality. So irrespective of whether services and products are delivered by internal teams or outsource providers the issue comes down to how they are managed.

Outsource providers often seem to get the blame when things go wrong and I am sure that sometimes this is justified, but equally there will be situations where the organisation itself has not defined or monitored the performance or level of resilience required. I’m not saying this was the case with BA but I do want to make the point that outsource providers will only deliver what is asked of them.

We were all taught at an early stage in our managerial careers that when you delegate you are still responsible for the outcomes. Outsourcing follows the same principle, so it’s important to remember that your customers and other stakeholders are ‘buying’ from you and are not interested in whether you have contracts in the background to enable delivery of the services or products. It’s your reputation, your brand, your revenue that is at stake. Yours to protect.

The organisation’s response therefore needs to realise this. The post incident review may well establish where blame should be apportioned based on the facts, but whilst the incident or crisis is being managed the focus needs to be on resolution and protection of the factors mentioned above.

My second point is therefore don’t automatically blame your outsource provider, plenty of organisations have suffered a similar fate through internal failures so take a good look at how you are managing the critical components that make up the service or product you are offering.

There will be more incidents such as the one BA experienced last weekend – best take some prudent steps now to ensure it’s not your organisation.