Finding opportunity in a crisis

Issues, critical incidents and crises can present many opportunities for the organisation that is open to learning. Meyers and Holusha (1986) identified seven potential advantages or gains which can arise from a business crisis:

  • New leaders or heroes may be born
  • Organisational change may be accelerated
  • Latent problems are faced
  • People are changed
  • New strategies evolve
  • Early warning systems develop for future issues
  • New competitive edges appear.

During a crisis it is vital that actions are oriented to each of the following:

  • containing the crisis
  • fixing it
  • communicating with the authorities and all other important stakeholders, and
  • learning from the crisis without focusing on laying any blame.

The organisation which does not attempt to learn from a crisis or critical incident is foregoing a major opportunity. Many organisations which accept the challenge to learn from a crisis or incident quickly discover the potential of a proactive issue risk management program to limit their future exposure.

If you would like to learn from the experiences of others without personally undergoing such a crisis, contact KMG Consulting for details of how we can help you develop a crisis preparedness plan or issue risk management program before it is too late.

Achieving Great Results

To consistently achieve results, effectiveness is vital. But there is a difference between effectiveness (doing the right things) and efficiency (doing things right).

Cranes In The Sky.

As with so many simple observations this has profound implications. You see, it doesn’t matter how well we do something, if that thing is not what we should be doing.

Of all the factors which make an organisation effective, doing the right things is the most fundamental. Whether it be in your marketing program, individual projects, or across the whole organisation, effectiveness is the key to success.

A few organisations may be fortunate enough to do the right things by accident, but for most of us achieving great results means planning.

Planning is one of the most important aspects of winning results. Planning is central to success for individuals, groups, associations, and for businesses whether large or small. Yet repeatedly we hear just how badly planning is done.

Eighty per cent of small businesses do not have a business plan. Eighty per cent of small businesses fail within three years.

And little has changed, even for larger businesses, since the Karpin Report identified them as having difficulty planning, stating: “the main Australian enterprises and their managers have too short-term a focus.”

Despite the evidence of how hard it is to plan well, some people still claim planning is simple. If that were completely true, surely we would all be better at it? In fact, effective planning may not be hard, but it is difficult to do without help. Even those of us who help others plan for a living, appreciate external input for our own plans.

Effective organisations (like effective individuals) plan. Their plans are always written down, but rarely set in concrete.

Good plans are dynamic documents, subject to regular review and evolving with circumstances. As General Eisenhower said “It’s not the plan but the planning that counts.”

The power of planning lies in its capacity to focus our attention beyond the distractions of the journey, on our purpose and objective. Plans remind us of the forest when we are deep in the trees.

Remember, failing to plan is surely planning to fail.

How do you identify a crisis when it is happening?

For some it might seem a silly question, but how DO you identify a crisis when you see one? What makes a crisis different to the myriad problems which beset many organisations much of the time?

Identify a crisisProblems are different to a crisis. In fact organisations are often reasonably comfortable addressing problems. That’s what managers are good at – easy as ABC!

Sometimes problems are warning signals or symptoms of a developing crisis or controversy. If recognised early enough these signals can help you avoid disaster and even find opportunity in a crisis.

However, people generally act slowly to non-normal signals, and that makes it harder to identify a crisis. It is common for all of us to:

  • wait for further information
  • delay action until supporting signals appear
  • seek to confirm a warning signal personally.

By the time the media is clamouring for your comment, the phones are ringing in your ears and messages are piling up around you, it’s too late to do much but respond.

So how do you identify a crisis?

According to Robert Heath the characteristics of a crisis are:

  • little time in which to act or respond
  • missing, uncertain or unreliable information
  • some threat to resources and/or people.

Crises never happen when you have the time or resources to cope with them.

That’s why some level of prior planning is critical for any organisation. And, if you don’t wait until it is actually happening to identify a crisis, appropriate staff training can shortcut your response time, as well as making sure it is most effective and appropriate.

If a crisis does strike your organisation you not only need to recognise it early, but remember your ABC’s:

  • Act responsibly
  • Be open, honest and available
  • Contain the situation
  • Don’t delay action
  • Empathise with those affected.

When you do identify a crisis building, these ABC’s are the key to your effective response.

Quote of Note

“There can’t be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.”

Henry Kissinger

Crises do happen.  But if you identify a crisis before it’s too late you can retain control and limit the damage.

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Incident Reviews – Learning from Experience

Not everyone learns from their own mistakes, but the best do – as I’ve discovered through facilitating incident reviews.

Organisations which review any incidents and near misses are able to learn from their own experiences. However, the very best organisations are also keen to learn from other people’s experiences, not just their own.

Strategic business consulting - incident reviews

The sad story of 10-year-old Sam Boulding, who died of asthma a number of years ago when his parents were unable to call an ambulance on their faulty telephone, offers your organisation an opportunity to learn from other people’s experiences and reflect on how incident reviews might help you avoid a similar situation.

Phone service provider, Telstra had not technically breached its customer service standards by not repairing the broken phone line. But community expectations of the information and service which should have been provided to Sam’s home were higher, with then Communications Minister Richard Alston describing as “pretty slack” Telstra’s system of dealing with priority needs customers.

Following the widespread criticism of its telephone fault repair processes and its handling of priority connections, Telstra faced rigorous new licensing conditions and reviewing operating policies, systems and processes to ensure such an incident does not happen again.

Lessons and Incident Reviews

Do any of your customers have special or critical conditions which might cause them to rely in some way on your products or services? Would you even know? If you do know, is the information available to all the people in your organisation who might need it? Have you had any ‘near misses’ that warrant formal incident reviews to avoid similar situations arising in the future? Are you ruthless in facilitating incident reviews internally, before external pressure forces an incident review on you?

Do you have the right operating policies, systems and processes in place to fulfil all reasonable expectations? (And given that community expectations of what is reasonable can change quickly, maybe even some which might seem a bit unreasonable?)

Reviewing issues such as these should be a central part of your regular business strategic planning process.


Quote of Note

“Yesterday’s miracle is today’s intolerable condition.”

Lewis D Eigen


Incident reviews help your organisation learn without having to endure the worst experiences some organisations face. Contact us for details about how we can help by professionally facilitating your incident reviews on site and in confidence.

Does this help or do you have a problem with this?

Can a crisis plan really help?

You need a crisis plan

I’ve heard it said that process of creating a Crisis Plan is pointless because the crises you plan for are never the ones which happen.

While there may be an element of truth, if for no other reason than any good planning process includes reducing exposure to identifiable risks, it isn’t the full story.

A crisis plan helps you to respond more effectively, even if the situation was not anticipated during the crisis planning process.

There are many different crises which might happen to you. Yet in all of them the situation is characterized by a need to make critical decisions under pressure from a lack of time and information, and in the face of a rapidly escalating cost (in human as well as financial terms) for the resources needed to communicate and implement those decisions.

A crisis plan, at the very least allows you to collect information and allocate resources without the time pressure generated by a critical situation.  So even in a totally unexpected situation, you will be somewhat better prepared as responsibilities have been already been allocated for decision-making and available resources identified in advance, during the crisis planning process.

Crisis Plan Process

The crisis planning process can focus decisions and establish a common point of view from which your team can respond in a crisis, confident in their interpretation of the organisation’s position and supported by your crisis plan.

Any crisis plan is a flexible guide to action.  And it is only ever as good as the crisis planning process which produced it. A sound crisis planning process will not only reduce the risk of crises occurring.  It will develop the skills your people need to respond appropriately should the unanticipated actually ever occur because they have the confidence afforded by your a crisis plan.

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