March  2008     Edition 35
Crisis Thinking

Crisis  n.  A sudden and unexpected change in course or state of affairs

, or a situation that has reached a stage in which a decisive change is impending, generally with a distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.

What makes a Crisis a crisis

is that it’s off course, it’s not what your brain was trending, it is not what you anticipated … and you don’t have a ready plan to deal with it.  If you did, it might still be a bad situation, but not a crisis.

Since you can’t plan for every possibility, you can’t eliminate the possibility of having a crisis.  In business, crises come in a many flavors; Public Relations, Financial, Products, Services, and a lot of localized crises, such as, a key employee in a department suddenly leaves.
Crisis Thinking.  If there is ever a time to switch over to Critical Thinking mode, it’s during a crisis.   One approach to this is to understand how to make the crisis a non-crisis.   Here is one possible strategy:

Remember the #1 Thing

…  “There’s always a way”.   Leaders don’t throw up their hands and give up.  Start with the perspective that there is a solution … all you have to do is find it.

Form a "Knowledge Team"

.  Understand if the cause is still adding fuel to the crisis.  If a dam breaks and the water is flowing, the cause of the crisis is over.   If however, you’re still manufacturing a product and that is the cause of the crisis, then there is something to do.  Abductive Thinking is a useful tool for determining cause and effect and for generating creative solutions.  To use this you must have a deep knowledge of the subject.  Most of the time an individual leader may not have that ready knowledge, so it’s important to quickly form a team that does.

Get Very Clear about the objective

you want to achieve in managing the crisis.  Once done, you can get your priorities in order.   In the case of a product defect crisis, the objectives are generally consumer safety, leaving the public with a positive view of the company, and minimization of any downside economic effect on the company.  Sometimes it’s just economic.  Sometimes it’s just safety.  In a nuclear power plant accident is the goal containment?  What about safety?  Is the safety of an individual plant worker a higher priority than preventing another Chernobyl?  What do you think the goals were for the leadership of NYC during and after 9/11?   What were the priorities?  Getting everyone clear and aligned about what the goals and priorities are is a critical early step in Crisis Thinking.

Have a "check my thinking" conversation.

  In a crisis, it’s important that you take action relatively quickly.  This doesn’t necessarily mean immediately, but you may need to act much quicker than business as usual.   One approach for this is to parallel your thinking with your actions.  Verbalize the assumptions that are driving your thinking as you move towards action.   Let others hear your assumptions and your conclusions.  They may catch a bad assumption or some faulty logic that you may be using to draw an invalid conclusion.   We call this a “check my thinking” conversation. 

The Takeaway:
   A crisis is usually a bad situation that you didn’t expect or don’t have a plan for.  Understanding the outcome you want is key to setting priorities. Once you have a clear goal, you can create a plan to get there, and then you no longer have a crisis. 

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