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Practical crisis management training thanks to solid partnership

Military crisis management for civilian managers: 54 participants completed a crisis management training course as part of the Executive Master of Business Administration programme at IMD. As members of the management team in a drill involving a fictitious airline, they had to cope with various crisis situations - usually several at the same time. To accomplish this, global managers learnt how to apply the leadership skills of the Swiss Armed Forces.

17.09.2020 | Communication HKA, Michelle Steinemann

Professional officers and civilian experts were assigned as instructors in the crisis management drill.
Professional officers and civilian experts were assigned as instructors in the crisis management drill. (VBS/DDPS)

Making sure not to get bogged down in the details and avoid micromanaging. This is not so easy when, as a senior executive of an airline company, you are faced with emergency situations such as a plane crash, food poisoning and a non-functioning baggage handling system. The main objective and probably the greatest challenge of the two-day crisis management drill was to continue applying strategic management principles under adverse conditions. To do this, the participants had to remain focussed on the big picture and distinguish between important and unimportant matters. Under the guidance of crisis experts, the international team of managers learnt how to master these tasks using proven management tools of the Swiss Armed Forces. Due to corona-related travel restrictions, 17 participants completed the drill online via videoconferencing and other digital means of cooperation; the entire process was coordinated from Switzerland.

Experience-based learning

The well-known military training method of ‘demonstrate, deconstruct and execute’ was not applied in this exercise from the very beginning. The participants were ‘thrown’ directly into crisis situations without any support given whatsoever. This was done intentionally to make them feel stressed and overwhelmed - just like in a real crisis. The trainers only started teaching after the participants had experienced this initial phase. The team of instructors included both active and former career officers and senior staff officers, who taught the participant how to use the appropriate tools.

Inga Korneliusa, Head of Sales and Marketing of Avis Budget Russia, commented on this approach: ‘The beginning was extremely chaotic. But after the trainers taught us how to use the various tools correctly, with a little practice, they seem to be well suited for crisis management’. With regard to the corona pandemic, she admitted: ‘before the corona crisis, I had little interest in crisis management. But now I am trying to learn everything that can be useful in a crisis. These tools are ideally suited for this purpose and I will present them to my management team when I return’.

Wael El-Afghani, head of dental research at a hospital in Kuwait, describes the training as an extremely good investment in the future and greatly appreciated the fact that active and former officers and senior staff officers were involved in the drill - something he had never seen before.

Benefits of military leadership training in civilian life

The drill was led by the company Kenel Crisis Leadership Training. The Management, Communication and Information Training Service (MIKA) was responsible for the military principles on which the drill was based as well as for the training provided. MIKA is headed by General Staff Colonel Mark Eigenheer, who saw this as more than a crash course in officer training. He explained: ‘I want to show the heads of private companies how valuable military officer training is. And when a crisis situation emerges, the participants should be able to remember basic things like adopting a systematic approach’. Stefan Michel, Dean of the EMBA, could only confirm that this is indeed the case: ‘the corona crisis has affected every company around the world. It was precisely in this extraordinary situation that the number of requests from alumni was particularly high. They recognised the practical benefits of their previous training and therefore requested the course material again.’

Valuable strategic partnership between IMD and the Swiss Armed Forces

The good experiences and positive feedback from alumni during the last few years underscore the importance of cooperation between IMD and the Swiss Armed Forces. And Stefan Michel adds: ‘The Swiss Armed Forces and IMD are linked by a genuine partnership that benefits both sides.’