Business How To: Keeping Order in a Crisis

If you’re looking for a “by-the-book” crisis, you’re going to be searching a long time. They don’t exist. Every crisis is different and comes with its own challenges and surprises. With that in mind, how in the world can you expect a sense of “order” in any crisis? Can anyone expect to have a sense of control when negative events are swirling around you and the people in your organization? Our answer is an emphatic, “YES!” After decades of dealing with every sort of crisis imaginable, we’ve learned if you focus on a few key things, any future crisis, while not smooth sailing, will be more capably managed with better long-term outcomes.

Order starts with planning, is learned and reinforced through practice and is fully realized by flexible execution. It’s impossible to plan for everything, but the goal is to develop a process that will help you react to anything. Planning for crisis events gives everyone on the team a sense of purpose and helps clarify roles, timing, places and priorities should something happen. Practice ingrains these ideas and helps identify problems when stress levels are low so they can be fixed. Being flexible is the final step because your next crisis probably won’t go according to plan. You must be okay with being flexible and adaptable.

Understand that with even the best plans and best practice sessions, there will be surprises. There will be unexpected twists that you had not prepared for. That’s the nature of crisis. Your willingness to expect this and roll with whatever comes will greatly impact the sense of disorder. It will always feel disorderly, but your response to it can be (should be) orderly, efficient and steady.

A major factor of disorder in a crisis comes from the sense of being overwhelmed, by being surprised or frozen by the challenge of so much information and so many decisions coming at you at once. You avoid this sense through action. Focus on small immediate tasks and goals. You can’t solve every problem at once, but you can triage and take on the most important things first. The most important thing is to start moving. Take action.

Don’t spend too much time waiting on information to make decisions. It is better to put things in motion, and then change as the situation demands than sit on your hands and let issues get too far out of control before acting. You’ll never be judged as harshly for taking the wrong action as for not acting at all.

Inertia is tough to overcome. Don’t get caught scoreboard watching—or coverage watching—watch to get the info you need, watch to learn, watch for changes, but pay closer attention to your teams/people and putting them into action as soon as possible.

Delegation is your friend. You’ve hired good people who are smart and capable. Give them responsibilities and trust them to get them done. It gives team members a sense of purpose and spreads the workload.

Know when you need help and find it. When you feel like, “Oh my gosh… how am I going to get this done?” That’s when you know you need to look for help. FEMA’s guidelines for incident command suggest no one directly manage a group larger than eight people. Small groups with a very specific task and a clear line of responsibility perform best in a crisis.

Compartmentalize emotion. Crisis situations can be tremendously emotional. The time to allow those reactions is after the critical time for action is over.

It sounds basic but keep command centers or crisis operation rooms orderly and clean. Clutter can add to disorganization, and with multiple teams coming and going, the clutter grows fast. Take the time to be neat.