We’re all going to face at least one crisis in our careers as leaders and our teams are counting on us to lead them through these kinds of challenges. Often how we react to a crisis is more important that the actual crisis itself. It’s important to approach any crisis rationally and recognize that the problem is not insurmountable, but the extreme nature of the situation is usually a result of how quick the onset is. Crisis management is very much like dealing with any other problem or leadership decision, it just requires having a response that matches the urgency and gravity of the situation.

Step 1 – Admit the Problem

It is absolutely astounding how often leaders launch into their reaction to a crisis without taking the time to admit that they have a problem and what the real problem is. Many leaders start to immediately tackle the symptoms of the situation without ever determining what the actual problem is. To truly get your team through a crisis successfully it is critical to determine what the actual problem is. Although it is important to determine the problem quickly, it’s important to avoid getting fixated on the first idea that is presented. Take a few minutes to ask some detailed questions about the problem and really make sure you’ve identified all the aspects of it. Missing one of these key aspects early could lead to problems implementing a solution down the road.

Step 2 – Investigate Thoroughly

Now that you’ve identified what the real problem is, it’s time to dig deep and get down to the root causes. Continue to ask who, what, where, when and why until you and your team are satisfied that you fully understand the causes of the crisis. This, of course, must be balanced with any time constraints necessary to implement a solution especially in an urgent, time-critical situation. A key point to remember is that determining the root causes is not to lay blame or point fingers, but to identify all of the areas that will need to be addressed in the solution and who the key players will be in implementing that solution.

Step 3 – Accept Accountability for Your Role

Once the root causes and key players have been determined, it’s important that you and your team take accountability for any role you may have had in creating the problem and accept your role in coming up with and implementing the solution to the problem. Also, hold others accountable to accept their roles in the crisis and solution as well. Recognizing and admitting these roles to ourselves and others is an important step that often gets overlooked and, without this accountability, and can impact the implementation and effectiveness of the solution.

Step 4 – Take Corrective Action

Now it’s time to come up with a solution and implement it. Methodically address each root cause and identify not just what the solution is, but who the key people are to make it happen. As the solution starts to take shape you’ll be able to find that some pieces of it will address multiple root causes and be able to streamline your plan. Once you believe you have a completed solution, circle back to make sure you haven’t left any of the root causes unaddressed. Implement the plan and monitor the actions that the team is taking to see if they are actually effective. If the solution is not having the intended effect, it’s okay to adjust, but don’t throw out the plan without giving it a chance to work.

Step 5 – Communicate Throughout Crisis Management

Although it’s listed as our last step, communication throughout the crisis management process is critical. Make sure to be sharing appropriate information to your leadership, your team and other appropriate stakeholders. You may have to communicate to customers, the media or the general public. Stay focused on the message of what the problem is, the root causes and the solution. As we talked about before, assigning blame is not usually productive at this stage so focus on root causes and solutions. You will have to make a decision about how quickly to tell your leadership that the crisis has occurred. If you can work through the steps and implement a solution very quickly, it may make sense to tell them after the situation is in hand; but letting them know right away that you’re on top of it and working on it is usually a good call.

One point to emphasize is that while the five steps presented here are deliberate, they can actually be performed very quickly, sometimes in a matter of a few minutes. Dealing with a crisis in a time critical manner is often the key to success and it’s important to balance how long you take on determining causes and solutions with correcting the problem quickly. The best way to save time in this process is to deal with the accountability aspects of the crisis early. As the saying goes “Accountability never goes out of style” and your leadership will appreciate it if you hold yourself and others accountable without unnecessary finger-pointing.

Wishing you all the best next time you have to handle a crisis situation. Tell us in the comments the steps you use in your crisis management technique.

Photo Credit: By Americophile (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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