Business, Interrupted: The Importance of Compassion in a Crisis


The world is fatigued post-pandemic. And for operational resilience professionals, there seems no end in sight for managing multiple crises or disruptions at once.

So, how do you keep going? How do those tasked with crisis management continue to move their organizations forward, even when faced with tragedies?

That’s what we talked about recently with Matthew Horace, Chief Security Officer at Mayo Clinic, during our sixth episode of season two of Castellan’s podcast, “Business, Interrupted.”

Horace is no stranger to crisis management. In fact, during his career he has helped his organizations navigate three life-altering tragedies: the Oklahoma City bombing, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy.

What he’s learned through those experiences may help others in the industry better understand what they can do to empower and put people first, something much needed but often overlooked as business resilience and critical event management best practice.

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Head First Into a Disaster

Horace was just two weeks into a new role when Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012. It was the deadliest and most destructive storm of the season, killing more than 200 people and causing some $70 billion in damages across eight countries.

On his side, Horace recalls, was a CEO who had confidence in Horace’s abilities and vision. And that included full accountability for the company’s staff, leaders, and people.

As Horace and team coordinated how they’d eventually resume operations as normal, he recalls the surreal experience of being on a conference call with his team when one team member’s house began to fill with water.

“And you talk about impact,” he said.

Since then, Horace has gone on to tackle other serious events and crises, learning lessons from one to apply to another.

Sticking to the Basics

Regardless of disruption type, essentially resilience management boils down to a few key elements:

  • Planning, preparing, and testing response.
  • Understanding basic business functions and which are needed to move the business forward to continue operations.

But it goes beyond that and extends into some often overlooked, but necessary soft skills, like people management.

When thinking in terms or resilience management, teams can’t lose focus on the key things they must do, but in the end, it’s all about the people responsible for those tasks.

Communication is critical. When dealing with people, it’s important to be mindful of what you’re saying and how, as well as how others respond to the information they receive. And to also remember that everyone is in what you’re experiencing together.

“It’s always good to take that break and reset and make sure that our people are doing well,” Horace explained, “so we don’t have tragedies personally, just like all the destruction and chaos that we see around them. Leave the lines of communication open and don’t make things so hardcore in black and white.”

“So for me, it’s always not to treat employees as transactional pieces of my execution,” he said, “but treat employees like people. Make sure that they understand that we’re focused on them. Just like we’re focused on everyone.”

The Value of Collaboration

In crisis management, resilience professionals often get bogged down in program and plan details, that’s why you might find it beneficial to work closely with a human resources representative, one who can help ensure you’re doing the right things for the people who need it.

“It really takes a cross-disciplinary team. And many of the other professional functions are equally as necessary,” Horace said, explaining, “it takes finance and accounting to make sure that you have the financial resources to manage. It takes HR to ensure that you’re accounting for people and HR has the list and the roles of the people, or you’re trusted to be accountable for it. It takes logistics. It takes strategy.”

And that includes everyone from the executive level all the way down.

“In many cases during the worst events, IT systems are the first to go. So how do we communicate? If you don’t have email, how do you communicate? If you don’t have electricity, how do you get your resources? Where are your vehicles? There’s just a static list of things.”

“And most of us have checklists to deal with these things, but they require the people with the expertise to be able to come together to galvanize and coalesce around this tragedy or this incident.”

Want to take a deeper dive into lessons learned and how to apply them to your future crisis management incidents? Listen to the full episode, “Maintaining Empathy and Compassion in a Crisis with Matthew Horace,” which is available on the Castellan website or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

Get The Crisis Management Plan Template


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