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.

Anyone else have feelings about this?