Cyber-attacks are happening. Here’s how L&D can help you survive them

cyber attack

For most companies ‘crisis’ probably isn’t a term they hear very much.

Fortunately a true crisis is quite a rare occurrence in most industries, but when they do happen it’s all hands on deck to help get it sorted. However, due to the fact most companies haven’t experienced and don’t really anticipate a crisis situation occurring, they often won’t have strategies in place should something serious occur.

There may be processes and procedures for events such as a fire, or serious injury at work, but often not for a business-related crisis, and should something major happen like a severe breach of data, or reputation-damaging public incident, odds are your teams would struggle to cope and potentially further harm could result.

Of course the hope is that no company will ever have to worry about this, and that no critical incidents will occur, but the reality is that they can and do happen. Data breaches are one of the most common crises that businesses encounter, and scenarios such as those encountered by Ashley Madison, TalkTalk and others are becoming increasingly familiar. As many experts have rightly pointed out, when it comes to cyber-attacks and data breaches, it is no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’.

Whether it’s the result of a cyber-attack or some other form of organisational disaster, having a coherent plan in place to address any crises should be a top priority. However simply having a plan isn’t enough; you also have to test it so you know whether it works.

One of the most vital things to have in times of crisis is an effective and in-control leader who can confidently take charge of the situation.

It’s the same principle as having fire drills; you have to practise and prepare for these events before they happen so you can feel confident of being able to rise to the occasion if they ever actually do. In the case of a crisis management plan, you may not always know what the crisis will be, so the focus shouldn’t necessarily be on planning and preparing for a specific situation; instead it might be better to focus on addressing issues that will be critical no matter the event.

Things such as team work, communication, problem-solving and stakeholder management will all be things that will be essential to get right no matter the scenario. For many organisations these may be topics that have been addressed in specific training programmes for their employees, and they may therefore not see a need to explore these again.

However a crisis situation will be a completely different environment for your team compared to anything else they may have experienced. A team may communicate well and work together effectively in a relatively relaxed environment, yet their response during a crisis may be entirely different. The only way to know whether this is the case, and also to enable improvements to be made, is to test their response. This will ensure you have a much more accurate idea of possible issues that can arise during critical events, and will allow steps to be put in place to ensure any gaps are addressed. 

How Can L&D Help?

cyber attackOne of the key areas where L&D will be able to help will naturally be in helping to up-skills team members if specific areas of need are identified. However there are many other ways in which L&D can support your business and teams in preparing for crisis situations. Below are just some examples, but through effective collaboration, there will be many other opportunities to engage L&D in the process.

Running sessions

L&D teams are experts at facilitating learning events, so it therefore makes sense to collaborate with them in designing and running a crisis management simulation. With their expertise in making learning impactful and engaging, they can help ensure that your session has the desired outcomes and really helps lead to a robust and sustainable action plan.

Team building

If you are planning a crisis simulation the chances are that disparate teams will be required to work together to ‘manage’ the scenario. If this is the case then at some point, whether it’s before the practise or after, these teams will need to have the opportunity to come together and develop as a single unit. They may only ever have to work closely together should a crisis occur, but by taking time to establish the relationships, and ideally find a way to maintain them, this will ensure that if something does occur where they have to work together, it will be a much smoother process.

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Followup post-learning can be a serious concern in some organisations, and in the case of crisis management, this is something that could cause real detriment to the business if not addressed. There is little point in running a practise scenario and identifying gaps if steps are not taken to address them and often teams and managers do not have the time or resources to do this on their own.

It can therefore be highly beneficial to include the L&D function in this regard, whether they are in charge of the whole process or only certain aspects, they can support teams in achieving objectives set out following a simulation. This may include running a similar scenario in the future, developing learning plans to address skills gaps or asking for feedback from the event. 


One of the most vital things to have in times of crisis is an effective and in-control leader who can confidently take charge of the situation while still actively supporting their team to do their bit. However, crisis situations aren’t typically addressed during leadership events, and as such it may be worth considering collaborating with your L&D department to either include this within leadership programmes, or design standalone sessions that deal with these issues. Effective leadership during a crisis can make the difference in how well and how quickly it is resolved, so inviting L&D to support this could be vital.

Educate around specific topics

If you are an organisation with a relatively limited number of potential crisis scenarios, then you may be able to utilise your L&D team to educate employees around these issues to ensure they are tackled from both a prevention and response point of view. 

Stress management and resilience

Effective crisis managementCrisis situations are inherently stressful, which is one of the key reasons to plan, prepare and practise for them; to ensure the stress can be limited as much as possible via an effective response. However there is also a great deal of benefit from continually supporting your staff in developing their day-to-day ability to manage stress, and building their resilience and mental toughness.

Staff members who feel capable in managing their stress will naturally respond more productively and effectively to a highly pressurised situation than those who struggle with this on a daily basis. By employing your L&D team to help staff manage stress and build resilience you will see a more productive and effective workforce no matter what the scenario. 

No organisations wants to have to think about what would happen in a crisis, but as the saying goes it’s always better to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, and when it comes to crisis management L&D can be a valuable ally in ensuring your staff are ready to face whatever comes their way. 

Enhance Magazine

This article was originally featured in Issue 12 of Enhance Magazine

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