Everyone loves a crisis as long as it’s not theirs. If you have worked for any amount of time, you will have experienced some form or another of a crisis. These moments of dread, terror and excitement really get your blood pumping and can define your career. For creative types, a crisis usually means the product or service you are about to birth hit some sort of snag. Maybe your fancy new way to mold plastic has a 10% yield or the client just changed their mind and your campaign’s color scheme is “totally wrong” 1 week before national launch. Whatever it might be, managing a crisis is a vital skill that all creative types need to learn, develop and practice.
Creative Crisis Management
Most creative people will experience a fair number of crisis’s because of the nature of their work. When you invent, develop, create or compose, there are a lot of unknowns that can lead to a crisis. The same creativity that allows you to invent new things can be tapped to resolve your crisis de jour. Remember, all a crisis really is, is creativity on a tight deadline.
The first step in crisis management is to remain calm. I know, I know, sounds super obvious but it’s not. Most people will say they remain calm but they really don’t. In reality, if it’s your crisis, you will have a tendency to either deny it, want to fix it fast, freak out or spin the world up too quick. Any one of these responses is bad and should be avoided. To help you manage those first signs of panic, consider these methods:
Assess the situation: In the beginning of a crisis, there will a lot of panic, confusion and freaking out. Remaining calm is important but more important than that is to take it all in and figure out how the situation is evolving.
Collect data: The more data, the better. Being data driven in a crisis is the best way to go. This removes yourself from the emotional, political and chaos that always swirls around a crisis.
Ask others: These others should be trusted advisors. Most of the time, they will give you invaluable insights into how to handle and manage your crisis.
Form a team: Crisis management and resolution requires a team of talented people who share the same passion for solving the problem. Your team has to be well rounded and complementary to the skills needed to resolve the crisis.
Formulate an Action Plan
Once you have calmed yourself, formed a team and put your boss at ease, your next step is to form an action plan. This plan will be critical to staying on track and effectively managing your crisis. Without a plan, you will soon find yourself adrift in the overwhelming chaos of data, suggestions and tantrums. Your plan does not need to be perfect but it does need to contain the following:
Who’s on your team: Communicate to all of your stakeholders who your team is. This is vital for alignment and commitment of resources.
Pending and completed actions: Always keep track of what you are doing and what you have done. Any action should have a who, what and when.
A name for the crisis: Name your crisis using declarative and descriptive words. That way, people know exactly what you are talking about.
Timelines: Develop a timeline of events that documents the evolution of your crisis. This is important for the next action.
Facts about the crisis: Always write down and communicate the undisputed facts about your crisis. Doing this allows you to focus on the important aspects of the crisis and not the facts that are already known.
The desired results: Defining the desired result allows you to declare when your crisis is over. Without a known end point, your team will languish and focus on the wrong things.
Free Flow of Information
Crisis management is all about information management and flow. Without a constant flow of information, good or bad, people will start to wonder what’s going on. You never want to have people question the status of your crisis nor what is being done to resolve it. This does not mean that you blast out your status to the entire company — that would be counter productive. What it does mean is that you need to do certain things that convey that the crisis is under control. The methods you should employ include:
Be all knowing: Crisis management requires a deep and thorough knowledge of the facts, data and experiments that are being carried out. Without this knowledge, you will waste a lot of time on wild goose chases.
Admit it when you don’t know: The most powerful management tool you have is to admit when you don’t know something. That single act will short circuit a whole line of discussion. The downside is that you actually need to have a plan to figure out what you don’t know.
See the big picture: Crisis management can be all consuming especially if you are a technical person that is knee deep in the debug or analysis of the problem. It’s best to frequently step back and look at where you are, where you have been and where you need to be.
Produce daily reports: Information flow must be fluid and constant. Achieving this requires a methodical drum beat of daily reports. These reports should summarize, with backup data, the events of the last 24 hours and what the next 24 hours will accomplish.
Update others personally: Personal updates to senior management and your boss are vital. These personal updates should include your feelings and reactions to the crisis and asking your superiors what they think.
Understand the Politics
A crisis brings out the best and worst in people. The worst in people is usually motivated by the political power struggle that every organization has. It’s best to identify the political motivations of the main players in your crisis early and reconfirm often. These people may be your boss, her boss or other departments that may want to use this crisis as a way to make a point or even worst, get someone fired. Political maneuvering can sometimes be hidden under the guys of “wanting to help you.” Real and true help is wonderful but also remember that some of this “help” may be for furthering a political agenda and not really meant to solve the crisis. Be aware of the following signs that offered help may be politically motivated. Also included are methods to prevent that from happening:
Figure out who benefits or doesn’t: Some people will use a crisis to dethrone a rival while others might use it to prove a point. Whatever the case, make sure you understand who benefits and who does not from the crisis.
Assess the quality of guidance: Some people may try and misguide you. That’s why it’s important to figure out the motivations of the person giving you the advice.
Always bring it back to the problem: During your crisis, the motivations of others will try and derail your efforts. This will manifest itself in the “wild goose chase”, where someones wild ass theory will distract the group from the real issue. When you feel things are spinning out of control, always ground yourself in the problem and the facts of the problem.
Be data driven: Akin to the focus on the problem, being data driven puts the crisis into a mode where decisions are made on facts and not emotions. It’s really easy to fall prey to the emotional arguments that permeate a crisis but don’t be tempted — those emotions just lead to more problems.
Briefly explore the “wild goose chase”: Wild goose chases can be beneficial. The reason is more political than functional. When you listen and acknowledge the thoughts and feelings of others, you can focus them much quicker than rejecting their theories outright. However, you must be careful with this because the wild goose chase can detail your whole effort.
Don’t blame others, just admit fault: Taking responsibility for a crisis is the fastest way to end the blame game and move forward. If you are in charge, the best thing you can do is step up and accept responsibility for the crisis. This is the hardest thing to do but essential for moving past the blame game and on to resolving the crisis.
Ask for help, when needed: Always ask for help if you really need it. Don’t reject help outright without giving it every consideration. This is an important crisis management tool since you need to demonstrate your willingness to accept help while still maintaining the control you need to solve the crisis.
Known When the Crisis is Over
Solving your crisis will depend a lot on defining what the desired outcome needs to be. Again, this sounds obvious but don’t take it for granted. Knowing when the crisis is over will focus the team on solving it. Not knowing the desired end game will just waste time and energy. Your team will wander off on tangents, solve problems that don’t need fixing and waste time and effort. For some on your team, the crisis is what they live for. They love being at the center of a complex, high priority problem that gets them a lot of visibility. You need to watch this because what can happen is that the crisis can continue on just to satisfy some of your teams adrenaline rush.
Moving on Past the Crisis
Once your crisis is over, remember to thank your team. It seems like a simple thing but thanking the team is a vital part of crisis management. Thanking the team shows that you value their contributions and want to work with them again on the next inevitable crisis. By remaining calm, forming a solid team and knowing when the crisis is over you can navigate the turbulent waters of the organizational crisis sea successfully.