Agility in Adversity
The better approach is to understand that despite your best efforts negative things will happen - and when they do, you need an agile response. An agile response will be speedy and action-oriented and will rally support from your organization for what may involve significant change. Having an agile crisis management process is a distinct advantage for you as a leader. It will enable you to zig and zag down the path to success.
Start with a positive attitude to inspire confidence within your organization. Then follow these five steps to recover from a crisis. You will emerge from adversity in a position of strength.
1. See. Perhaps the biggest contributor to dealing with a crisis successfully is to see it coming or at least acknowledge it when it arrives. Being quick to see clearly will get your recovery off to a fast start. Avoid putting on the blinders that will keep you in the dark about the mistakes - maybe yours - that generated the crisis.
2. Think. Analyze the problem and develop a plan of action. This is probably the easiest step for those of us in the technical field because we are accustomed to thinking about multiple, innovative solutions to problems. In a crisis, think aggressively to create several alternative paths of action. You will need to prepare a response because your organization will likely be affected even if the critical event is focused at the corporate level.
3. Tell. Communicate with all constituencies, and tell as much as you are able to reveal. You have a responsibility to keep your people informed because their lives may be affected. Furthermore, without accurate information people will speculate - and reach conclusions that are usually much worse than the actual situation. Your demeanour should be one of calm control: If you seem panicked, you do not look strong.
As you communicate with your staff, accept accountability for your own errors. Years ago I learned from a study on upwardly mobile leaders that only the mediocre ones do not acknowledge their own mistakes. Honesty is the best policy because it engenders trust. People will deliver incredible performance for trusted leaders, and that performance is what will enable your recovery.
4. Do. Act with a laser-like focus. Make recovering from the crisis your top priority and do not be distracted by the bump in the road. The strengths that got you where you are today will help you drive to a result. Remember that persistence, resilience and courage to take on big risks will be key factors in your ability to withstand the ever-present crises.
5. Review. When the crisis is under control, review the lessons learned. Elements of your review should include how you could have seen the situation coming faster, how you can avoid it in the future and the effectiveness of your response. To ensure the review focuses on improvement, avoid the blame game. Otherwise, you lose the ability to get the level of candour that will fuel improvements to processes or operations.
I have used this agile approach to crisis management successfully many times. Whether I faced budget miscalculations that upset my organization's plans, abrupt business reversals that required cancellation of infrastructure projects or personal crises that demanded a reordering of my priorities, having an agile approach has helped me handle the adversities of life.
Whether your life is relatively smooth or a series of roller-coaster rides, it is comforting to know that you have a tried-and-true approach to dealing with adversity. With these steps to guide you, you can develop a grace under fire that will enable you to keep your cool and your perspective during the small excitements of corporate life as well as those devastating crises that may impose themselves on your company. Just remember that old homily: Leaders are like teabags. The longer they are in hot water, the stronger they get!
Before retiring in 1999, Patricia Wallington was corporate vice president and CIO at Xerox. She is now president of Florida-based CIO Associates
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