Why the British Red Cross wants to carry on with their Covid-19 decision-making process 

By Manifesto

At chase.livestream 2020 in early September, Kerry Blackstock, Director of Supporter Marketing and Engagement at The British Red Cross, talked about their charity decision-making journey as part of their frontline response to Covid-19 and how they are keen to embrace these new ways of working on an ongoing basis.  

Louise Lai, Transformation Director at Manifesto,  opened the session by drawing out some of the key factors that cause bad decision-making in organisations, as outlined in Manifesto’s recent Deciding Effectively whitepaper: 

  • Cognitive biases: for example, anchoring which causes people to value one piece of information over another when making decisions 
  • Group effectfor example, the cascade effect which causes groups to quickly come together around a decision which gets early support because it’s a popular choice or because someone important in the organisation backs it. 
  • The Ladder of Inference: concept which was first put forward by Professor Chris Argyrisexposes how people jump to the wrong conclusions as part of their decision-making processbuilding on things that are not right in an organisation, but go unchallenged because they’ve always been done that way 

Talking through how the British Red Cross adapted their decision-making during the pandemic, Kerry explained that the pandemic hit every part of the organisation, which was the first time that the charity had to respond to a situation that was also impacting its ability to deliver services and functionSignificantly, this meant that every opportunity was assessed afreshavoiding the Ladder of Inference that Louise referred to 

The charity quickly moved to a command and control structure organised into gold, silver and bronze teamsfocusing on role and not rank, bringing together key groups of people to run particular business functions. Short, focused daily meetings were held by these teams to allow the rapid cascade of information, and all decisions were made with the most up to update information from across the organisation – not just one department – ensuring a shared understanding of the priorities.   

Given resource constraints and increasing demand for their services, a ruthless prioritisation of what needed to be delivered was carried out. In the Communications and Fundraising department, they mapped out all their activities using an impact and effort model, with the focus being the charity’s core charitable purpose.  

As a consequence of this prioritisation, the charity seized the opportunity to carry out an integrated brand and fundraising campaign focusing on the purpose of the charity supporting those impacted by coronavirus in the UKTo support the campaign, the charity created an integrated cross-functional team, breaking down hierarchical and siloed structures, but still respecting clear roles and responsibilities, so as not to undermine expertise.  This enabled the charity to deliver an effective campaign which had a dual call to action – get help and give help – and delivered amazing results 

The charity recruited a large volume of volunteers, raised money and reached their beneficiaries and, perhaps most interestingly, they were able to build a platform to illustrate their work in the UK in the way that they hadn’t been able to do before, as often the work of the British Red Cross is associated with international emergencies 

The approach was well-received internally because the prioritisation made it clear where the charity should focus their efforts. The structure was transparent, people understood why decisions had been taken and the rationale for those decisions. 

The most striking outcome of the charity’s response to Covid-19 is that there is no appetite to go back to the way the organisation worked before. They know that with reduced resources they will need to continue to be ruthless with their prioritisation and focus. The charity’s response to Covid-19 has brought some unexpected benefits of making them more efficient and less siloed as an organisation, so they want to embed these new ways of working on a more permanent basis and encourage staff empowerment to ensure the greatest impact of their charitable purpose. 

These outcomes were echoed in Louise’s closing comments: 

[ask yourself this] If we set ourselves up as a charitable organisation tomorrow, would we be the same? What if we had a blank canvas? Would we decide to transform ourselves into an organisation that truly reflects its core vision? 

How has [our] impact changed? Would we have the same structures, processes, roles and systems?” 

Louise concluded that effective decision making, as shown by The British Red Cross, this is truly the sector’s opportunity to rebuild for the better, for the future.  

For more information on how to support your organisation’s effective decision-making, download Manifesto’s free white paper.