Thursday, May 19, 2016

Crisis Management: 10 lessons in handling a crisis situation

By Virginia Mburu

Crisis, crises, disaster, catastrophe, emergency, calamity, predicament, crunch....

They happen to everyone, anyone, any organization, business, nation etc.  resulting in major changes in lives and lifestyles. All the more reason why how we handle a crisis matters! 

But again, how do we react when faced with a crisis?

 Mwakazi, the passionate owner of Makao Interior Designers realized that at times our instincts lead us to reacting in   ways that make the situation worse. 

The other day, there happened to be a fire drill in a building he had visited and he noticed that some people were more interested in saving their possessions than their lives! Imagine someone trying to go down the stairs carrying the merchandise they sell!

 It is more disastrous if this behavior is exhibited by you the Passionate Entrepreneur or the CEO of the organization. In crisis, your employees look up to you for the next course of action and any wrong move will affect their personal and organization’s fate.

Mwakazi decided to seek guidance on how to respond to a crisis situation. During one of his usual meditations, he came across a crisis Jesus faced in Mark8: 1-10 and picked the following lessons;

Lesson 1.....Assess the crisis and minimize damage
Mark 8: 1-3 “During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

Take a hold of your emotions and accurately assess the situation.   What is happening? What is at stake? Is it damage to life, property or both? What is the extent of the danger? 

This is when you need to master all your energies to remain calm and grounded so that you can gather all relevant information you need at this stage. You will make critical decisions prioritizing those that relate to saving human life such as first aid, hospitalization, evacuation, put our any fires etc. 

In this case study, the food supply had run out in the middle of nowhere! And the people were likely to collapse should this situation continue!

Lesson 2.... Quickly identify and engage relevant stakeholders
We see Jesus addressing his disciples in verse 1 and the crowd in verse 6. Your key stakeholders could be your employees, shareholders, customers and other individuals or entities who have relevant knowledge in data gathering, analysis, planning, executing, communicating the plans etc.

They could be those who will significantly be affected by the crisis or resultant actions. In case there was real  fire in  the building Mwakazi visited, emergency response teams such as the police,  fire brigades, Red Cross, ambulance owners, hospitals,  neighboring business owners etc. would be immediately  engaged.

Lesson 3.....Employees reaction and resistance may present roadblocks
Verse 4- “His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”
Given the panic, fear and anxiety that manifests during a crisis, do not be surprised should you face some level of resistance. 

Show leadership by enacting the behaviours you are expecting of them- caring, calm, confident, collaborative, flexible, quickly reading the “new reality” and getting into problem solving mode.

Lesson 4.....Work out an action Plan
Verse 5-“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven,” they replied.”
Immediately engage the available stakeholders to developing a plan of action based on best, usual and worst case scenarios given certain key variables and assumptions. 

Which stakeholder leverage points can you work with given the crises? The disciples had seven loaves that Jesus could work with. While developing the plan, remember to take your core values into consideration so that short term gains do not turn into long term regrets.

Lesson 5...... Set up a crisis Team
Jesus and the disciples-This is the central team that will handle the various aspects of the crisis management. You need a team leader and professionals in communication, emergencies, finance, Human Resource, marketing, production, operations etc.

 The rest of the employees will be taking directions from this team as they continue with their “near normal” functions. This follows that you should have an agreed   assembly point as well a clear contact and communication structure (which may involve next of kin contacts as well) in place for quick transmission of information.

Lesson 6.....Execute your plan
He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them.

Difficult? –Right!  All the same, you now have to execute your plan.  Keep your cool and be ready to change as new circumstances may arise necessitating a change of strategy. While speed is of utmost importance, avoid acting in haste so that you do not compromise the effectiveness of the expected result. 

Organise your teams to work for reasonable durations so that they do not suffer fatigue and lose effectiveness thus aggravate an already bad situation.

Lesson 7.... Communicate effectively
See to it that employees, customers, suppliers and every vested interest group receive transparent, honest and relevant information early and as often as possible.  Open and transparent communication may help deter rumors and defuse potential media frenzy. 

Be transparent in all media internally (memos, emails, meetings etc.), online (website, social media) and offline (emails, SMS texts, calls, meetings, press releases, interviews). Admit mistakes, apologise and   do what you can to correct the anomaly.  

Have a central contact person or group who dispatches the information to the relevant interest groups to avoid conflicting communication.  

Lesson 8.....Recognize, celebrate breakthroughs
The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand were present..... 

Expected result-Four thousand men ate and were satisfied but there could have been equal numbers of women and children which means about 12,000 people fed that day!

Unexpected outcome-seven basketfuls left over in comparison to the seven pieces the disciples had before the miraculous multiplication! Is it possible to have a positive outcome your employees or stakeholders can celebrate once the crisis is over?

Lesson 9.....Close the crisis and go back to normal activities.
“.......After he had sent them away, 10 he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.
Jesus ensured that the crowd was fully fed and on their way back home. And then he was back to business as usual.  As much as possible, sort out all pertinent issues and tie any lose ends so that you do not precipitate another crisis. 

Take the shortest time possible to normalize your activities. You may need to have debriefing sessions for all the affected parties so that you quickly adapt to the necessary changes.

Lesson 10.... Be better prepared for the next crisis
After taking in the lessons above, Mwakazi decided to;

a. Have a crisis management plan.
He would have brainstorming sessions and list all possible happenings could significantly affect his business (fire, acts of God (floods, storms) product malfunction leading to accidents, theft, attacks, labour issues etc.). 

What would be the impact? How could he prevent the same from happening? If not, could he visualize how would he respond or better still adapt the nine lessons above?  

How often was he to review the plan as circumstances change and thus a periodic review of the plan is important to keep it up-to-date?

b. Improve his crisis response ability
To personally acquire and assist employees acquire crisis coping skills. He would also take them through situations (fire drills, first aid) that enhance their ability to assist one another stay calm, collaborative, confident, flexible, quickly adapt to change, solve problems all within a crisis. 

He also needed to set a solid core value system which will guide how the employees react to the crises e.g. high attachment to material things vs human life.

He also noted that we learn how to respond to crisis at family level. He was to encourage the employees to teach and   apply the crisis coping skills at home so that the others can learn from them. Actually, he would encourage them to have a Family Disaster Management Plan-how to react, where to assemble, identify who to call, emergency phone numbers etc.

Another factor that influences coping ability is how we have handled other crisis as nothing prepares one for a crisis like a crisis. It matters not that the two events are significantly different! 

Does this mean that he should look forward to a crisis? Maybe not, but  a crisis is bound to occur and it will define what type of person he is and what people will remember most about him! 

 Over to you Passionate Entrepreneur;
  • How do you cope with crisis situations?
  • What do people remember you for after a crisis?

Share your experiences, suggestions or questions in the comments section below. Who knows- You could probably be the one to benefit from the expected result or the   “seven basket fulls" of unexpected outcome after the crisis is over!

Whatever you do, make sure it results in less work, more money and positive impact.

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Virginia Mburu
Passionate Entrepreneurs Coach



Virginia empowers and motivates Passionate Entrepreneurs to realize their purpose and pursue it. She then assists the entrepreneurs to clarify, prioritise and focus on management and marketing strategies and action plans that will get them to work less, make more money and positively impact within one year.   Download some of her gifts- absolutely free lessons on www.biasharacoach.blogspot.co.ke