Professional Education and Career Blog

How to Effectively Manage a Crisis (When Everyone Else is Panicking)

Crisis StormThe Earth is rumbling, the ground is cracking and lava is figuratively flowing among the cubicles in your company. You have a genuine crisis on your hands, and all eyes are looking toward you to provide a solution. The pressure is mounting, and the more time that passes, the more damage your company could potentially sustain to its profits, reputation and long-term outlook. Here are some crisis management tips for keeping your cool and moving forward with deliberate action to bring your crisis to a successful conclusion.

  • Plan Beforehand – Don’t wait for a crisis to happen before giving some thought to how various scenarios should be handled. It’s much easier to be able to pull up a contingency plan that’s already been thought out than “winging it” as you go. Hold regular brainstorming sessions particularly with new projects to identify potential landmines. Obviously, not everything can be anticipated, but a little creativity up front can smooth things out down the road. Make sure your plan has a step-by-step list of specific actions, and identifies all the roles and who should fill those roles.
  • Communicate with all stakeholders. If your crisis affects the general public, then identify a spokesperson as the go-to point for the media and the public. One of the worst ways to handle the media is giving an inconsistent and confusing message, which just fuels media speculation about the “real” story of what’s going on. Communicate with customers and suppliers to let them know that the problem is being handled, and give them regular progress reports.
  • Communicate with employees. Don’t add fuel to the rumor mill, which can lead to internal strife and employees updating their resumes. It can also possibly create ‘leaks’ to the outside world of inaccurate information. You want the company to seem calm and in control, not a collection of headless chickens running around, and few people feel calm when they’re kept in the dark.
  • Get higher-level management involved early. If you’re leading a crisis, or perhaps even the crisis is your own fault, don’t hide and cover up. There’s a saying in politics that the cover-up is always worse than the scandal, and there is much truth to that in business as well. Let higher-ups know early that there is a problem, and what you’re doing to handle it. If it grows beyond your ability to manage it, it’s easier for everyone to move quickly if they’re already up to speed, than if you’re suddenly dumping it in their laps.
  • Act Decisively. You can’t always know the best course of action (especially if you’re in territory without a pre-written plan), but no action is nearly always worse than some action. Take whatever time is necessary to gather needed information, but once everything is known, confidently do what needs to be done. A good example of this was Donald Sterling’s racist comments that were handled by the NBA. Whether you agree or disagree with the action the NBA took, they had a crisis and they looked in control when dealing with it. They took the time necessary to gather the facts, then acted decisively in response. Far from being damaged by the crisis, they ended up with more public respect than they started with.
  • Once you’re past the crisis, work to repair the damage. After the storm, there’s a temptation to want to go back to business as usual, and pretend the past didn’t happen. Make a proactive plan on identifying and fixing the damage, with specific company leadership in charge of the effort. Don’t assume all is forgiven by the people affected by the crisis. Work to regain their respect.
  • Crisis ManagementKeep your cool, and never lose your temper (at least in front of people). Your employees, customers and possibly the public are looking at you to set the pace and let them know what to do. It’s not productive to cast blame or express your anger and frustration. It’s time to be the leader that you yourself would want in the time of crisis, so emulate that idea, even if you have to fake being cool (as nearly every leader has to do on occasion).

A crisis that is badly handled can wipe out years of progress in a single day. But as the NBA proved, a well-handled crisis can end up improving your outlook and the company’s future. With the right plans in plan, you can be prepared to control things when the inevitable crisis strikes your company.