Success Story in Brief

A case study of how a Whole Brain® approach to decision making enhances emergency management and disaster recovery outcomes.

“In the fire service, patience and intense pressure are part of our jobs. The HBDI® makes us confront our and others’ thinking styles under pressure. This knowledge is essential for the readiness of all competent emergency service managers in developing their capabilities to respond and recover.”

Stu RooneySouthern Fire Region Manager, Dunedin
About AUT

Auckland University of Technology (AUT) is a university based in New Zealand. AUT enrolled 27,299 students in 2013, including 3,101 international students from 85 different countries, and 1,735 postgraduate students. 87% of students were enrolled in a bachelor's degree or higher qualification. AUT’s student population is diverse with students having a range of ethnic backgrounds including New Zealand European, Asian, Maori and Pacific Islander. Students also represent a wide age demographic with 37% of students being over 25. AUT University employed 2,063 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff in 2011, including both administrative and academic staff members.



To determine whether a Whole Brain® approach improves outcomes for managers engaged in leading and decision making in emergency situations. 

During the period 2008 to 2010, a group of managers engaged in studies about leading and decision making in emergency situations were profiled using the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®) assessment, which defines and describes a person’s preferences for thinking across each of the four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model.

The objective was to ascertain the effectiveness of taking a Whole Brain® approach to decision making, one that combines analytical, organizational, interpersonal and strategic thinking. All of these managers were engaged in studies at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and held leadership roles with decision-making responsibility in emergency service agencies.


To optimize decision making and outcomes across the various phases of recovery management.

This case study involved presenting scenarios to emergency managers familiar with and whose roles involved recovery management considerations. The timeline for decision making in the recovery phase following a disaster tends to be longer and involves higher levels of complexity. The response phase focuses on swift actions to primarily save lives and then focus on securing critical infrastructure and assets. In recovery management, there are opportunities to reflect and carefully consider whether a holistic, integrated approach is being taken.

Participative management devolves responsibility and decision making to middle/lower organizational levels. Recovery scenarios offer opportunities to engage others in the organization, including drawing on the different decision making perspectives of those at different levels. This ensures that the widest pool of talents and ideas is available to contribute to the task in both “business as usual” and emergency circumstances.

A capacity for more effective, responsive and devolved decision making needs to be developed. The challenge is finding and introducing a proven, easy-to-apply organizing principle to allow this to happen.


Using Whole Brain® Thinking as an organizing principle for better decision making in recovery and emergency management.

Herrmann International’s Whole Brain® methodology, based on proven research into how people think and communicate, including when under pressure, was chosen because it provides a validated and well-researched organizing principle that facilitates holistic and integrated reflection in emergency management decision making, especially in the post-disaster (recovery) phase.

According to Chris Webb, Emergency Management Programme Leader for the School of Healthcare Practice at Auckland University of Technology, reflection within the complexities and varying nature of recovery situations is vital if organizations are to enhance effective, responsive and devolved decision making. As a tool for reflection, Whole Brain® Thinking gives people an insight into their own and others’ thinking preferences as well as the skills they need to operate outside their preferences when the situation arises.

The HBDI® profiles also describe how thinking preferences shift under pressure— of particular application to decision making in organizations that wish to enhance their thinking in recovery and emergency management processes.


Effective (whole-brained) decision-making for recovery involves thinking from all four quadrants. Unless a leader as decision-maker is confident that the emergency management recovery team is whole-brained in its approach (using the thinking from all four quadrants in decision making) and is able to address all of these dimensions, the results are likely to be sub-optimal and not provide sufficient focus to the desired recovery outputs and outcomes. Equally important is how the leader approaches the decision-making process while under pressure.

Overall, the study found that:

  • Decision makers in emergency recovery situations need to allocate tasks on the basis of a clear understanding of individual team members’ thinking and how they react under pressure.
  • There is potential for decisions related to facts and form (processes and procedure) to be given lesser priority or to be excluded from decision making in recovery scenarios.
  • Decision making with an awareness of the low preference or avoidance of decision making in certain quadrants facilitates the opportunity to achieve a more holistic, balanced whole-brained approach to making recovery decisions.
  • The application of a Whole Brain® approach to recovery ensures that decisions that focus on facts and form are given appropriate consideration.

The findings of this case study suggest that Whole Brain® Thinking offers an organizing principle for better decision making in recovery and emergency management. When recovery management teams address recovery scenarios where holistic, integrated thinking is required to ensure balance and success, Whole Brain® Thinking ensures that the “bases are covered.” Those involved in emergency situations are better equipped to demonstrate proactive decision making in their approaches to managing recovery and other emergency management processes.