Lack of control: preparing for Limbo - Business Works
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Lack of control: preparing for Limbo

by Graham Reynolds, CEO, New Resolve (UK) Planning and knowledge lead to control - the essential component of any successful crisis response and the thing that screams at us from the second the event occurs. So what happens when we don't have the full facts; when we can't be sure of an outcome; when there are numerous permutations, few of which give us control? Graham Reynolds, CEO of New Resolve, offers ten principles to help us take control and get out of limbo.

I'm usually well prepared, well informed and have a fairly clear plan for any new or forthcoming major event. I have years of experience in emergency planning and crisis management. I've gathered facts and figures, analysed, researched and concluded. I've taken action which has lead to control.

As a coach, I often refer to our understanding of 'truth and reality'. It's a kind of familiar place that we take for granted. A bit like sitting on a chair: we don't question its reliability. After all, we've collated information and evidence for our entire lives to support these truths and realities. So familiar and so solid, that we don't even need to notice them - we just focus on the stuff that's not so clear, knowing we can later relax in the haven of what we do know to be true and real.

Until, of course, the moment when some new evidence comes along, never directly encountered before, that may shatter our reality. We recognise this in life-changing events - bereavement of that one soul that has been your lifetime rock; loss of a child; life-threatening injury or health problems. Something so powerful that we are, for a time, disorientated, out of control, maybe helpless.

Re-evaluation of our reality

Right now, around the entire globe, we are faced with an enigma that will drive us to notice all our 'realities' - the things we have previously taken for granted: food, safety, health, shelter, work, income, security, wealth, family, friends, travel, connection.

We have a lot to process: more to process as a society than at any time since the great wars.

In the management of emergencies, the initial moments are taken up with the immediate demand of the situation: what is needed right now to gain control. It's usually related to the immediate steps necessary to save life, but more broadly, to contain and minimise the impact.

As time advances, more information is gathered, more resources corralled and the opportunity to take wider-reaching decisions is realised. Order begins to return and attention begins to move towards the path to recovery. This is often represented by the Park Model or Disaster Response Curve. The initial hours following the event will be chaotic and the impact possibly catastrophic. Over time, an understanding of the situation is gained and the path to recovery commences. This is a transition. As the demands of response begin to diminish, so the efforts for recovery can increase. The desirable outcome is always a return to something better than was present before: real learning to create greater resilience for the future. Here lies our opportunity, but how is this realised?

the Park Model

Not surprisingly, the dance between response and recovery planning relies heavily on communication. The military often refer to C3 meaning Command, Control and Communication. In the early response phase, communication tends to be dominated by the giving of direction (command). As the clock ticks away, the gathering and co-ordination of information increases in importance as we gain Control. Shared understanding through open communication becomes vital. Google the definition of communication and you will find many references to the 'transfer of information from one source to another'. But, it is much, much more than this. Effective communication occurs when there is a mutually-shared understanding. An understanding of the facts and the feelings related to it; the detail as well as the implications; the human elements; the connection. To go a step further:

The understanding of the humanity of the situation is often critical to success

In just a few weeks, we have been plunged into an emergency response which has been unprecedented. There is no 'mutual aid' from unaffected parties - just an exchange of data that suggests certain courses of action are or may be more effective than others. There is little certainty, just (well-) educated judgements. And so, this is typical of the early stages of any crisis response. We rely on experts and our previously-tried and tested methods to deal with the reality confronting us. As we begin to make sense of this theatre, we start to form a new truth or reality around which we can create a new normality.

There are some striking similarities between this model and the human reaction described in the Kübler-Ross Curve which Dr Roger Prentis of RDPI wrote about in this article.

In the coming weeks, a new normality will begin to form around all of us. For some, such as care workers, this will mean weeks of frenzied activity and little time to assess anything as the response phase continues. For many others, life will slow down, perhaps massively. Both extremes will cry out for connection, a shared understanding of what now is. Both extremes will share the sense of a state where nothing appears to be changing; a place of uncertainty without control.

This is the 'limbo' - the "can't go back and the can't go forward". Or can we?

Every person needs connection

I emphasise the every. We are tribal. We need to belong, to connect. This is hard-wired into us. If you are familiar with psychometrics, you will know of the different personality traits that we all carry in varying proportions. Whether you are dominated by the need for facts and order, or by your senses and intuition, we all share the need to connect - to be with people who understand us and share our view of the world.

Right now, we are all looking to restore order, we are looking for control. Just as in any emergency response, as we move away from the moment of the event, we start to communicate, to connect; to explore possibilities; options. We discuss, analyse and agree our next steps. Every person counts. All personalities, all types contribute and are valued.

This may feel like 'Limbo'. The facts might look like 'Limbo'. but while many are engaged in the crisis response, many others now have time to connect, I mean really connect. Connect with each other and importantly connect with ourselves. What is really important to us? What are the possibilities for our new normality - as individuals, as members of an organisation, as a society? How can we reach out to those who are still embedded in the crisis response and may still be for many weeks to come? What can we re-build? What can be even better?

Half the population has the opportunity to start the recovery process right now; to connect and start thinking about what the new normality should look like, preparing the way for the front line responders when their time comes to recover.

Ten principles for control

Here are ten important principles that I've taken from my own experiences which might help whenever the sense of control slips. Use them whenever you are uncertain what to do. Share them. Discuss them. Plan our recovery and decide who you will be in the new normality.


  1. What can I do right now to keep myself safe? (Safe = sustained. Fix your own oxygen mask before helping others)

  2. Step back and assess: what do I need in this moment, right now for that next step closer to control?

  3. Where is my nearest back-up? (who can I connect with right now: you are NOT at your best on your own)

  4. What are my responsibilities in this situation? (legal, moral, social, personal - they all matter)

  5. What are my priorities? (things that are truly important - not a wish list)

  6. What steps can I take with the resources I have in this moment and that are otherwise available to me?

Preparing for recovery

  1. What do I know is coming next that I can prepare for now?

  2. What will success look like in the days to come?

  3. What have I learned that I would like to change?

Who will I choose to be at the end of this experience?

For more information, please contact: New Resolve (UK)

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