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Top tips for decision making in a crisis

Published: 14/12/22 | Categories: Information & support, Author: Siân Eager

Siân Eagar, WCVA’s Resilience Officer, summarises some of the key learning points from our cost of living event ‘Decision making in a crisis’.

As part of WCVA’s mini-series of webinars around the cost of living crisis, we invited Bev Garside, of The Female Alchemist, to talk to the sector about how to navigate risk and uncertainty and make decisions in a crisis.

Voluntary organisations across Wales are at the heart of the current cost of living crisis, striving to continue to serve their communities and sustain their organisations. The resilience of the voluntary sector is once again being tested as organisations face the dual challenges of increasing demand and increasing costs.

WCVA defines ‘resilience’ as:

‘The ability of an organisation to plan for, respond to, and adapt to change, enabling it to survive and thrive both now and in the future.’

Leadership, risk management and strategic decision making are all key aspects of building resilience but in the midst of a crisis, with many competing demands, it can be difficult to know how to handle the situation. So what can trustees and managers do to ensure that they make good decisions under this pressure?


The first step, according to Bev, is to recognise the impact of stress on your decision making process. Dealing with a crisis creates stress, which makes us feel discomfort. Feeling under pressure to avoid that discomfort we can then resort to reactionary decisions which may not be the best solution.

Instead we need to take time to step back, assess the situation and plan a response which will lead us to better decisions in the long term. It may seem difficult to take time out when in the middle of a crisis but by assessing priorities and dealing with issues in a structured way you will ultimately save time and resources, and can be confident in your decision making.


Bev’s advice was to focus your time and energy on those issues that you have the power to control (and not the things that haven’t happened yet). Bev shared the Circle of Influence model below which shows how you can categorise issues based on your ability to influence them.

A diagram showing the circle of influence. There are four circles contained within one another which increase in size. The central circle - 'What you can and should influence'. The second circle - 'What you can influence but need more info'. The third circle - 'Things that you cannot influence or cannot influence currently. The outer circle - 'Has not happened yet and may never happen'

Circle of influence, Bev Garside, The Female Alchemist

By concentrating on the issues in the first circle, that you can and should influence, you can take back control and start to make a difference. You can then move on to the lengthier issues where you need more information before making your decisions (and not waste time on the things that you can’t influence or may never happen). This simple tool helps to focus decision making, and can benefit all team members as a way to prioritise tasks.


Bev also reminded us of the importance of assessing risk, and how in a crisis situation we may not get this right. It is easy to get distracted by the issues people are shouting about, when they might not be the ones that could have the most impact on your organisation. You can address this by creating a situational risk register, using the usual Red, Amber, Green rating to identify the issues that need your attention.

To carry out your risk assessment you need to go through the following steps –

  1. Write down a list of the risks that are facing your organisation
  2. Give each risk a score indicating the likelihood that it will happen (1 = low, 5 = high)
  3. Give each risk a score to represent the scale of the impact if the event happened (1 = low, 5 = high)
  4. Multiple the numbers from points 2 and 3 to give the overall risk rating which you classify Red – High, Amber – Medium, Green – Low
  5. Identify the things that you can do to mitigate (reduce) the risk. Remember to think about things you can do to reduce both the likelihood and the impact
  6. Decide who will be responsible for carrying out the work needed to mitigate the risk
  7. Agree a timescale to review the risk

An example of an extract from a risk register is set out below:

An example situational risk table

By going through this risk assessment process you will identify the issues that present the greatest threat to your organisation and that need your attention. This process ensures that you are fully aware of your organisation’s situation, are focusing your time and resources on the things that really matter and are as prepared as possible.


Bev encouraged people to recognise that uncertainty will be a feature of our decision making for some time – so we need to get comfortable with that. Leaders need to be prepared to make interim decisions on current information then review them as the situation unfolds.

Making timely decisions will be important, and that includes recognising that doing nothing can itself be a risk to an organisation. However that doesn’t mean rushing decisions, sometimes it is necessary to evaluate and wait. Bev cautioned people against being pressured to respond to other people’s timetables unless there is a compliance need.

Even in a crisis we must give ourselves time to think, assess, prioritise and plan.


Bev Garside, The Female Alchemist, is a qualified change agent with over 30 years’ experience working with public and voluntary sector organisations. Bev provides a range of consultancy services including critical intervention management, change management, leadership and coaching, and works with clients collaboratively to achieve impacting change.

WCVA has created a resources page for the cost of living crisis, including a section on governance and decision making.

For more information on management issues relevant to the cost of living crisis take a look at this blog from Alison Pritchard, WCVA’s Sustainable Funding Manager, about the importance of good fundraising decision making.

Siân has also summarised the key learning points from Gus Williams’ recent talk on financial management in the cost of living crisis.