When crisis arrives at the business level it usually creates conflict. The conflict comes from two places – a foggy, murky, or unclear hierarchy of purpose and everyone entering the conflict from their own point of view. Organizational charts exist for the purpose of clearly defining roles in crisis management. Really healthy organization have clearly defined reporting structures which account for blurred lines in the time of crisis. Those organizations that offer an unclear or murky understanding of roles, crumble in the chaos as their lack of understanding of roles and actions create more internal conflict. This is the problem with most group projects. Unless roles are clearly defined, everyone enters from their own point of view. That entrance of self-importance pushes everyone to pursue the reward of glory while trying to avoid the responsibility of failure. Watch this happen the next time you are dragged into a group project with no clear leadership roles.
I once worked for a company that preached a matrix structure, but it had more to do with making empty promises to multiple individuals than it did for actual functions. When crisis did strike, this organization was ill-prepared, as clear lines of reporting and action had never actually been mapped out. The leader had informed multiple players they were crisis leaders, and what resulted was no leadership at all. Every person in the crisis was jockeying for a position to curry favor from the leader and that person could not make a public statement on the leadership of the company, as all those empty promises would be revealed. That is not a good way to run any organization.
In moments of crisis, people will revert to their highest level of training. Really this is their highest level of comfort. The highest level of training, therefore comfort, is personal survival as many have never been taught or trained on what do to in a disaster or crisis. Rarely do organizations spend any time on disaster recovery or emergency response. Usually, this lack of training or preparation is exposed at the moment of impact, and we think “we should have planned for this.” But then the crisis passes, and we go back to our regularly scheduled lives without giving it a moment’s thought ever again. Even if we manage to navigate the crisis with relatively little impact on our business world, it still doesn’t solve the problem of crisis management and implementation that the crisis exposed in the first place. Yet, once it is passed it is forgotten, only to be repeated at the next moment of impact.
Brazilian author Paulo Coelho wrote that “a mistake repeated more than once is a decision.” Organizations that lack clear communication standards and clear hierarchical lines are destined to be tripped up by this problem again and again. Why? One is it sounds like work. No one wants to do the heavy lifting necessary to prepare for the worst. And two, weak leaders. You know these people – they cannot stand other people being the center of any attention. They work their entire lives to keep the spotlight on them for anything good that happens and push the spotlight on others when anything bad happens. These are the ones entering from their own point of view and working crisis management on what is best for them, personally, not just doing what is best. Leonard Saffir, a leading PR and Crisis Management executive said, “In crisis management, be quick with facts and slow with blame.” That is hard for many, as they are only entering the crisis from their own point of view.
True leaders, those that manage good times and bad times with equal calculation, understand that preparation and training make navigating any situation possible. Former President John F. Kennedy once said in a speech during a crisis, “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and one represents opportunity.” I would like to think that the President of the United States has more than just his own ego in mind when dealing with the fate of the nation. I would like to think that military training and advanced knowledge brought the best of our national security team at the time of this speech and this crisis. We didn’t perish from the earth, so the crisis was averted but were significant plans drawn up to prevent future crises from getting out of hand? Did he heed his own advice and take the opportunity to put preventative measures in place to manage this type of situation in the future? I would like to think so – but look at your own organization. With others in crisis, have you taken any steps to document and practice emergency response scenarios in your own operation?
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “the significant problems we face cannot be solved with the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” When crafting emergency response plans, I have found it best to include all levels of your organization in the planning. Knowing full well that everyone enters from their own point of view, it is best to gather that knowledge before rafting and implementing a go-forward plan. If we rely only on the knowledge of the top two or three people, that is a mistake. Expand the knowledge base in your crisis management plans. Some of the best planning has involved people from another department, even those not impacted by the crisis. Outsiders’ points of view are just as relevant as insiders'. Sometimes we are so deep in the forest we cannot see the tree that is right in front of us.
Realize that everyone enters each situation from their own point of view. Without clearly defined plans and roles for individuals, our organizations will revert to their highest level of training or comfort. For many, that is none or chaos, as everyone is working individually to solve a problem that impacts all. Healthy organizations work on communication and dissemination of information, so their people have a higher understanding and a higher comfort level. This benefits them in a time of crisis. The unhealthy ones continue to trip along with miscommunication and blurred lines of reporting until one day they meet a crisis they cannot overcome. They don’t survive and there are plenty of historical examples of this in business. Many of which could have been prevented if those leading these organizations had not entered the crisis solely from their own point of view. The next time you are charged with crisis management, take a second and look at the problem from 10,000 feet, first. It sure looks different from another point of view.