Content uploaded by Patrick Lagadec
All content in this area was uploaded by Patrick Lagadec
Content may be subject to copyright.
VOL 4 ISSUE 2
VOL 4 ISSUE 2
VOL 4 ISSUE 2
VOL 4 ISSUE 2
The force initially comprised a dozen members,
selected on the basis of their capacity to
remain creative under intense pressure. The
RRF tested its mettle in the course of two
exercises, dealing with pandemic and nuclear-
related scenarios (September and October
respectively) and proved to be not only useful,
but truly essential for upper-echelon leaders.
It enabled them to remain focused on their
strategic role, ie eschew the tendency to be
swamped by tactical-technical matters and
micro-management. Through strategic advice,
as well as very speciﬁ c propositions, the RRF
provided new traction and leverage in the face
of situations that typically deny organisations
any real control over chaotic dynamics.
In the wake of these two initial exercises,
the ‘top four’ echelon at EDF conﬁ rmed that
the RRF had become an ‘essential’ tool,
and even announced a new policy: “No
crisis management without the RRF.”
IN 2006, THE AUTHORS LAID OUT A
new concept for crisis leadership in CRJ
which Électricité de France (EDF) was then
just beginning to implement at the highest
level: the Rapid Reﬂ ection Force (RRF).
One year on, EDF’s top management now
systematically relies on it. It has proven to be
a crucial platform for innovative networking
dynamics inside and outside EDF, and has
spurred the company to tackle the challenges
of chaotic environments that characterise
21st century crises more effectively.
The RRF is a group that’s task is to help
the Chief Executive (CE) level grasp and
confront issues raised by unconventional
situations. It does so by developing equally
unconventional responses when usual toolkits
and references turn out to be irrelevant, or
indeed dangerous. It aims to raise the right
questions (rather than rely on ready-made
answers), to ﬂ ag pitfalls, to clarify new player
networks, and to identify one (or two) critical
initiative(s) that can trigger positive dynamics.
In 2006, EDF implemented the RRF concept.
Rapid Reﬂ ection Forces
put to the reality test
Pierre Béroux, Xavier Guilhou, and Patrick Lagadec outline how the Rapid Reﬂ ection
Force concept – described in CRJ in 2006 – has now proved itself as a pivotal tool for EDF’s
senior management when they are confronted with risks and crises
outside add-on to organisational coping
mechanisms, but as an underpinning for EDF’s
entire crisis management architecture.
Over a seven-month period, (in August and
November 2006, and then again in February
2007), one of EDF’s nuclear plants (Chinon)
was hit by a cluster of tragic events, as three of
its employees committed suicide. Though this
did not happen on the premises of the plant
itself, this apparent ‘cluster’ mushroomed into
an internal and public issue, all the more so as
it had eerie similarities with recent occurrences
within other French companies, whose initial
reaction had been to underline that suicide
was an individual act, which therefore entailed
no speciﬁ c responsibility from the industry.
EDF decided immediately to act differently.
Pierre Béroux, in his capacity as Chief Risk
Manager, instead raised a ﬁ rst crucial question:
“What is the essence of the problem?” He
quickly agreed on a common, basic paradigm
with the two other authors of this paper (who
at the time were in New Orleans), and EDF’s
other members of the RRF. This paradigm
was to: Avoid an over-hasty or dryly technical
response; and eschew narrowly legalistic
postures, which would only have caused
more disarray and more loss of conﬁ dence.
The suggestion was made – and accepted
by the CE level – that the real answer to such
deep-rooted turbulence was not, in fact, an
answer, but an attitude; that the company’s
posture should not be, yet again, top-down or
magisterial (“let me tell you…”), but should
demonstrate a willingness to listen, and then
to act. Speciﬁ cally, a mission was set up
at the CE level, under the leadership of two
high-level ofﬁ cials – Pierre Béroux, and a
Human Resources (HR) manager – described
as personal representatives of the Chairman.
The principles of complete respect and in-
depth listening were fully endorsed by all.
The RRF remained involved at all stages of
the process, working hard to analyse situations,
open up ideas, and suggest courses of action.
At the plant, the delegation excluded no one;
it aimed not to explain, but to listen and try to
understand. This openness helped clear the
air which the issue had threatened to poison,
as employees were given a chance to dwell
on traditionally ‘taboo’ subjects, such as
organisational pressure. Just as the problem
at hand was serious, so it was considered and
analysed seriously, enabling a global dynamic
for change, improvement and healing.
The point here is not to draw a rosy picture
of the RRF’s work. The types of challenges that
it is meant to confront do not allow for quick
ﬁ xes. The ambition is not, or cannot be, to put
our ﬁ nger on ‘the’ magic formula, but – more
modestly and more responsibly – to create
conditions and avenues for improvement. The
point is not to appear successful, but to be wise.
This same spirit and method was used
in another crisis: a risk of regional blackout
which lasted from December 2006 to
February 2007, and during a very sensitive
period, Christmas. The challenge posed by
this incident, as the RRF underlined, was for
EDF to rise above a simple ‘name and blame’
response and to instead focus on leadership
and crisis resolution empowerment.
In September 2007, a very ambitious
simulation exercise was held by EDF, based
on the scenario of a breakdown in information
systems. The ‘fog of war’ was very dense
indeed: it was unclear whether the event was
due to a national terrorist attack or merely to
a localised disruption. This raised a serious
challenge for the CE level, as the appropriate
posture would differ dramatically depending
on how the situation was interpreted. The RRF
proved invaluable in helping the upper echelon
make sense of the resulting ‘funny war’.
It was essential to weigh both possibilities
very carefully; no ready-made tool-kit could
provide a technical answer, or determine
the appropriate communication strategy.
The RRF was the ﬁ rst to understand that
the situation was not a case of global terror,
but was owing to insufﬁ cient protection at
a single site – a conclusion which called
for a speciﬁ c communication strategy.
In December 2007, a second large-scale
exercise was organised, involving, this time,
a (ﬁ ctitious) nuclear incident. EDF had, of
course, trained on many nuclear-related
scenarios in the past, but the RRF quickly
called the top leaders’ attention to the fact
that here, new dynamics were at play.
Over the years, EDF had developed a
habit of tackling such situations initially
through a technical response (in the very
ﬁ rst hours), before turning its attention to
EDF had, of course, trained on many nuclear-related scenarios in the
past, but the Rapid Reﬂ ection Force large scale exercise organised in
December last year involving a ﬁ ctitious nuclear incident, quickly called
the top leaders’ attention to the fact that new dynamics were in play
photo: Med iatheque / EDF / Bea ucardet William
One year on, the RRF has matured into more
than just a promising concept. The learning
curve has been steep, and the practicalities of
this innovation have been reﬁ ned. But the RRF
is much more than an organisational success
story. More to the point, it has shown itself to
be a seminal concept in approaching the terra
incognitae that are modern crises. The RRF
arguably holds a crucial answer to the question
raised by the US House of Representatives in
its report on Hurricane Katrina, namely: “Why
do we seem to be continuously one disaster
behind?” It lays the groundwork for a new
culture, new operational ‘grammars’, and – last
but not least – new networking capabilities when
the name of the game is partnership, collective
innovation and resilience. The new cartography
of risk and crises that we are called upon to
develop requires new beacons and charting
instruments: the RRF is a good place to start.
In 2007, the RRF was convened on
several occasions in real life situations
and in training exercises. The conclusions
reached in 2006 were upheld, as the RRF
continued to prove invaluable. So much so,
in fact, that the RRF is now not seen as an
public communication (some hours later).
But now the scenario at hand would clearly
trigger immediate disruption among the wider
public: addressing its concerns could not wait
until technical issues had been resolved.
More surprisingly, communication itself had
changed radically. For years, the norm in crisis
communication had been to prepare the initial
communiqué, followed by a media brieﬁ ng,
and high-proﬁ le TV interviews, especially in
nationally-televised newscasts. Now, however,
the internet has hanged the rules of the game.
Again, the RRF was crucial to the response
as it helped the CE representative and the
communication team to build a strategic
response that reﬂ ected the new challenges.
Generic lessons have emerged from all
of this. On the one hand, it is now clear
that the RRF can play a crucial role. But on
the other hand it cannot, and should not,
replace other functions: neither operations
nor communication, nor least of all an
organisation’s strategic team. This suggests
where the goalposts are to be set: everyone
within the crisis platform should be trained
to take full advantage of the RRF, but they
must also retain their own crucial mission.
The reality tests and exercises underlined two
imperatives. First of all, RRF members should
undergo new training continually. Crises today
grow more and more complex and surprising.
Preparation must adapt in consequence, with
a crucial warning: “Never ﬁ ght the last war.”
Unfortunately, ofﬁ cial reports often
do little more than string together
a litany of recommendations
that call for more of the same.
Such conventional thinking
is not the way to confront
emerging risks and crises
This electricity pylon was destroyed by a hurricane. The RRF was
implemented speciﬁ cally to tackle crises like this more effectively
photo: Med iatheque / EDF / Ard ouin Thierry
Therefore, a new special training programme
was created which combines both teaching
(lessons drawn from recent on-site case studies
at worldwide level), and simulations confronting
very difﬁcult and ‘strange’ scenarios.
The second imperative is that each team
working in the crisis centre should be given
speciﬁc preparation to improve its capacity
to interact with the RRF. A programme is now
underway creating an operational tool-kit on
unthinkable crises, or even conventional crises
that suddenly mutate into inconceivable events.
A DVD will be available by this March,
combining basic texts, slides, and short
videos aimed at heightening the viewer’s
awareness of these issues and to prod
them to modify their approaches.
In addition, speciﬁc sessions for each
group (operations, communication and
leadership) should be held to cultivate
the necessary change in dynamics.
The key outcome, to date, has been
a near-universal acknowledgement that
critical improvements are required. Even
the best practices developed over the last
decades must be revisited – and all agree
that the RRF can help this happen.
Today’s crises tend to overwhelm traditional
crisis management mechanisms and
organisational frameworks. In so doing, they
trigger ‘stun effects’, as even trusted best
practice becomes outmoded. In this context,
it is crucial that teams and individuals in
charge feel that their organisation includes
a group of people devoted to precisely
addressing such impossible challenges,
and available to help where and when
needed – all the while trusting that their own
role is not undermined in the process.
PILLAR OF STRENGTH
Real life incidents and exercises have shown
that the RRF can genuinely become a pillar
of strength around which an organisation
can coalesce. The RRF can beneﬁt all. On a
global scale, it can help an entire organisation
develop strength, coherence, stability, and
strategic intelligence, and thereby address
the most difﬁcult – and increasingly frequent
– challenges of our turbulent times. The RRF
is also a steady driver for benchmarking,
partnerships, and shared initiatives.
The crucial issue at stake was underlined
by the White House Report on Hurricane
Katrina: “Our current system for homeland
security does not provide the necessary
framework to manage the challenges posed
by 21st century catastrophic threats.”
Our cartography of risks and crises is
outdated. Our best practice still lags one war
behind. Unfortunately, ofﬁcial reports often
do little more than string together a litany of
recommendations that call for more of the
same. Such conventional thinking is not the
way to confront emerging risks and crises.
Granted, it is now fashionable to call
for new public-private partnerships, for
benchmarking, for more communication and
more simulation exercises. But we are far from
the conceptual revolution which would turn
these mantras into more than empty slogans.
Many people seem vaguely aware that this is
not enough, that a terra incognita somehow
lies beyond old and outmoded approaches.
The RRF is a gateway into this unknown
area, a new instrument to begin charting
emerging risks and crises, and the appropriate
responses. This is because it focuses on
questions, on creativity, rather than on
ready-made answers. It calls for, and elicits,
the sharing of questions, intuitions, and
open-minded approaches. It concentrates on
ﬂagging speciﬁc ways out, not on the absurd
ambition to develop global, ﬁnal answers.
Those are no longer attainable – if they ever
were – in today’s chaotic environment.
This capacity to provide a pillar of strength
that doubles up as a signpost explains why
so many ofﬁcials – private and public, French
and international – have now expressed
their interest in the RRF, fully aware that it is
more than a just another tool, another best
practice. With increasing frequency, many
have asked to come and see the RRF at work
during simulation exercises for themselves.
The RRF has also proven to be a stimulus for
high-level meetings on an international scale,
through its attractiveness as a promising new
avenue to grasping and confronting emerging
issues of global import. It was one of the
focal points of a seminar held by the Johns
Hopkins University’s Center for Transatlantic
Relations in Washington, in March 2007,
and again during the international seminar
on emerging crises convened by Morocco’s
government in Casablanca in May of that year.
The RRF initiative is also the cornerstone of
another recently launched initiative with critical
operators (from the banking, transportation,
telecommunication and water sectors) in
France, with the aim of setting up a European
partnership to tackle the most difﬁcult issues
related to crisis management in a chaotic world.
In a nutshell, the RRF has shown itself to be
much more than the organisational add-on to
crisis cells that had initially been envisioned.
It is, in fact, a rare lifeline in today’s emerging
environment of risks and crises. In this sense, it
has undoubtedly gone far beyond expectations.
It now behoves us to look forward and build
upon this cornerstone. In the authors’ opinion,
the best means to do so is to open new avenues
for co-operation, be it with academia, experts,
or leaders, with the crucial support of EDF.
This article will have fulﬁlled its objective if
it brings us any closer to this goal.
Pierre Béroux is Chief Risk Ofﬁcer, Electricité de France; Xavier
Guilhou is CEO, XAG Conseil, Paris (www.xavierguilhou.com);
Dr Patrick Lagadec, Special Advisor to CRJ on unconventional
crises, Director of Research, Ecole Polytechnique, France.
VOL 4 ISSUE 2
VOL 4 ISSUE 2
The EDF crisis room in action during a pandemic crisis exercise. The RRF
tested its mettle in the course of two exercises, dealing with pandemic and
nuclear-related scenarios, and proved itself not only to be useful, but truly
essential for upper-echelon leaders