Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 at 9:57am
The Fourteen Steps of Crisis Management®
Examine the horizon
Crises are always preceded by a precipitating incident that doesn’t look so bad. An employee complains about something. A newspaper calls with an obnoxious question. It is often something that can be ignored. It shouldn’t be. On your toes!
Stop bad behavior
If you are a famous and admired sports figure married to a proud and beautiful woman, do you really believe that you can frequent innumerable hookers with impunity without at some point being caught? Why? Or say you’re a governor known for your personal rectitude. How long do you think you can be hanging out with hookers before the state Republicans, who hate you, will find out about it. There comes a crucial point where 95 percent of all bad situations can be avoided. Seize that moment! It may never come again!
Foster manageable paranoia
The good crisis manager makes sure that the decision makers beneath him or her realize that there may be consequences to their actions, an enviable trait often more difficult to foster and display than it might appear. You are screwing with one of the great self-mythologies of those in management roles: that they operate above and beyond the rules that govern normal mortals. Scare them!
Catch it early
Sadly, most crises do not send a little note of warning that reads, “I’m coming. Hope you’ll be at home.” After muttering and bubbling, they simply erupt. Janet Jackson rips off her bodice to expose a nasty-lookin’ piece of nipple jewelry. Your wife sees a text she shouldn’t and slams you over the head with one of your golf clubs. Bam. Here’s the point where most people lie. Resist the urge. Take a step back!
WTF is going on, really? People will be running around like bugs surprised when the rock is turned over. Some are screaming like the sky is falling. Others are attempting to go about their daily business as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening and half their face has been blown off. As soberly and rationally as you can, find out what is going on.
Most crises seem to pop up, disappear for a while, then pop up again in a different place. Perch over each hole in the ground and wait. You’re not going to solve this thing overnight, not these days, not with a predatory, opportunistic slander machine working 24/7 to keep its meat fresh. Whack. That. Mole.
No, sir, you can’t hide.
Those responsible for the crisis or for repairing it must be on location, available, and visible. It is the tendency of all crisis creators to either 1) retreat to their caves, sipping a fine Burgundy between briefings, or 2) blissfully go about their daily business far away from the scene of the crime. If the crisis is to be neutralized, the big executive must be present to confront the fallout. Statements must be made that show awareness and compassion. Pictures must be taken that demonstrate living proof that the organization, while at fault, is not without a heart, goddamn it. So get them there! Because you care!
In the midst of a calamity, everybody wants it to be over so that all the toy soldiers can once again be lined up in their proper rows. The good crisis manager allows all the false solutions, the quick fixes, the dumb, dramatic reactions to swirl around while a true and lasting course is found. Don’t let this period last for too long, though. You are evaluating, permitting the tides to go in and out, not fomenting indecision.
There’s no punishment for taking a few moments to think. So . . . think. Ponder the parallel futures that lie ahead.
Establish the plan
You have taken off your helmet and found that the air is breathable. You have some idea of what to do, the decisive act, statement, position, demonstration of will that can make this thing end and stay ended. It’s not perfect. But it’s the only way to go. Launch the plan!
A plan is not a plan if its intent and purpose are not explained to pertinent audiences—employees, shareholders, the media. Even if the message is very, very minimal, there must be some message that tells the world that you have a story and you’re sticking to it. Sell the plan!
Don’t apologize indiscriminately
Apologies in this society are not necessarily a solution. They are often taken as a requisition for punishment. They are not accepted. They are not appreciated. Perhaps there are rare occasions when a serious, brief, and heartfelt apology is appropriate. But most of the time the crisis is not ended by the apology. It is, in fact, extended to include a merry dance that ends in the decapitation of the apologizer.
Declare yourself closed for business on this stupid thing
There will now be intense pressure, mostly from the media, to advance the crisis, build it, keep it going, plumb its depths for more grist. Resist. It’s time to get back to the real world. You’re not playing the crisis game anymore.
Learn something, why don’t you
This phase is optional. Others are going to want to skip it. Try not to.
In the end, nothing can stop the crisis once it has started on a path to your door. Shit happens. That’s okay. You’ll live. Unless, you know, it kills you. If that looks likely, get the hell out of the way. There’s no place for martyrdom in this Curriculum.
Survive and prosper, that’s the ticket.
For further information on the lessons contained here, refer to The Curriculum: Everything You Need To Know To Be A Master of Business Arts.