Time-crunched decision makers have too often focused on one or a few “magic bullets” to manage the new friction they are being forced to confront. Magic bullets are characteristically easy to implement and simple to explain to employees, customers, and other stakeholders. Things like detailed continuity or recovery plans and multi-layered security systems have been held up as the solution to the organization’s challenges. However, by failing to address the most critical needs of the entire system in favor of what looks or feels good, many critical vulnerabilities remain woefully unaddressed.

Key Bank Corp. was under attack on 9/11. The last airliner to be taken over by the terrorists was hijacked over Western Pennsylvania. Before the heroic passengers and flight crew decided to take the plane back from the terrorists, a suicide pilot who had been trained to fly the plane into a skyscraper was in control of the fully-fueled 767. The 63-story Key Tower, the tallest building between New York and Chicago, would have been clearly visible from the cockpit of the hijacked plane. A variation in the actions of the terrorists or the crew and passengers may very well have put the building directly into the line of fire.

On September 11, the evacuation of the 12,000-worker building was chaotic to say the least. Hundreds of employees, including several senior managers, refused to leave their desks even after the evacuation had been ordered. Moreover, for thousands of workers, it took well over an hour to finally exit the building.

The next week, Key designated two people on each floor to be in charge of evacuation in case of another emergency. The floor leaders met for about 15 minutes to provide feedback and updates after regular evacuation drills were conducted. New employee policies mandated that anyone not willing to move from their desk, and evacuate in a timely manner- regardless of their position- would receive sanction, suspension or even termination. When the August 2003 blackout occurred, the building was completely evacuated in less than 12 minutes without incident or injury.

Technology Does not Provide a Failsafe; Processes Do

Consultants and salespeople are quick to promote the latest, hottest technology when it comes to better managing the friction that organizations are confronting. The latest firewalls, communication devices, or detection gadgets are very popular right now. They may be useful to some extent. However, success is only as effective as the human processes that surround proper implementation. The focus must always be on human process, with technology providing support. Not the other way around. All threats to an organization’s viability, even those occurring in cyberspace, stem from human beings. Therefore, the response must be ultimately human.

At the core, organizations need to be able to not merely survive but also thrive in the ever-changing environment they find themselves in today. To fulfill that mission, leaders must create a seamless system that integrates every aspect of their organization- including the friction-producing ones.