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Leadership Crisis Management

Crisis Management: Are You Ready?

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You cannot lead a crisis unless you are prepared for it. Crises may come from the natural environment, team dysfunction, competitive or economic threats, product failures, seemingly simple mistakes, miscommunications, security leaks, and many other sources. As a leader, you have many choices in how you prepare, respond to, recover from, and evaluate a crisis.


Preparing for a Crisis

The vital steps in preparing for a crisis, in approximately this order, are to: 

  • Think ahead to recovery.
    Have you considered the following: a plan to backup data, a safe place for employees to gather if they need to evacuate, communications with media, and how to reach help (fire, police, lawyers)? Does everyone in the organization know their role?
  • Make a risk assessment.
    How vulnerable are you to fire and flood, security leaks, terrorist attacks, and all the other myriad possible crises?
  • Acquire the necessary people and skills to handle a crisis.
    For example, if the organization struggles with decisions at the best of times, a crisis is not the moment to learn effective decision making.
  • Examine your personal preparations for a crisis.
    Do have training in crisis management? Do you have someone in place who can take over if you are incapacitated, not available, or not qualified to handle the crisis?
  • Keep conversations and decisions rational and in line with your values.
    You control what is controllable; you prepare as much as possible; and then you accept that the uncontrollable will happen. Do you know what your values are: keeping employees employed, serving your customers, making a profit?


Responding to a Crisis

You may have time to consider your response during a crisis, but the definition of a crisis includes the likelihood that time is short. In responding to a crisis you should:

  • Keep evaluating; a crisis is seldom static and you need to have a clear set of priorities.
  • Communicate; poor communication, rumor, and speculation intensify any crisis.
  • Seek information; the more you know, the more useful your response.
  • Make a decision—at some point, you have to declare that you have evaluated, communicated, and compiled enough information; you need to act.


Recovering from a Crisis

The most important factor in recovering from a crisis is communication. Customers, employees, your team, and everyone you work with needs reassurance that the crisis has been dealt with. They need to know the consequences (will people lose jobs?) and that time and help will be available for coping with the aftereffects. 

One difficulty in recovering for a crisis is that the very resources required for recovery may not be available. In addition, some recovery actions, such as embarking on organizational change or merging with another company, may ultimately create their own crisis. Therefore, as a leader, you need to keep alert and realize that your response to a crisis may not end just because the crisis itself is over.


Evaluating a Crisis

Lessons are to be learned from any crisis. If you are not able to admit your mistakes, lack of preparation, or failure to either take the time to evaluate or act when necessary, then you are doomed to repeat the same mistakes with the next crisis.

Evaluation is not the same as finger pointing. Instead, you should return to the first step in preparing for a crisis and determine how your preparation, response, and recovery procedures should change. 

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