A case for crisis management?
Taking off on a short flight 20 years ago, our plane lost part of its landing gear. There was a loud explosion; the aircraft listed violently. We knew something was wrong, although we didn’t know what.
Within minutes, the pilot explained the next move. He would circle the airport while the debris on the tarmac was examined. Engineers with binoculars would assess the state of the undercarriage. He promised an update shortly.
The comfort of clarity
I can’t stress how comforting it was to simply be told that he was on it. He was calm and he was initiating a process. We were no longer quite so much in the dark. His next broadcast was both good news and bad news: the starboard wheels had fallen off, but everything else was working.
The plan? We would continue to our destination. We were already airborne and we had to land somewhere. It might as well be where we were going.
The strategy? Emergency crews would be waiting for us. Cabin crew would make thorough preparations for an emergency landing. We would land on the nose wheel and the port undercarriage. He was trained in such a manoeuvre.
Our role? We ran through the safety instructions again. This time we listened. Some people asked for clarification; others diligently practised specific procedures. By the end of the flight I was a master at firing an emergency hatch.
I wouldn’t rate it a stress-free flight but I am still here. Everyone did what they had to do. The landing was scary but ultimately successful. Maybe fortune had smiled on us as well.
Management in critical times
Former MIT Professor Edgar Schein says up to 90% of an organisation’s culture is determined by the behavior of the leader. Specifically: what they attend to, how they react to critical incidents and what sort of role model they portray. In my eyes, the pilot on that flight scored 100% in maintaining a positive culture in critical circumstances.
Today, the wheels have fallen off the world economy. There are a lot of worried travelers around. Whole nations are close to bankruptcy. Business closures are up. Retail spending is down. Stock market volatility is extreme. Small bounces in optimism quickly stop at a lower top, and then head for a lower bottom.
What can you do?
Take a lead from our pilot.
- If the situation is critical, acknowledge it: don’t let the inertia of pessimism put you into the isolation ward. Assess the predicament rationally then communicate it clearly and precisely.
- Make it clear you are taking action: many of your people will be worried. Let them know that you are on it.
- Decide on your destination: don’t hold back. Be positive and definite. Together you are going to get the business through this.
- Look to your strengths: you are already airborne. What’s working? If you have to land on only two out of three wheels, tell them that’s what you’ll do.
- Get everyone onboard: let people know you will need their help. There is a role for every passenger. Collaborate to grow your options. Initiate action, no matter how small. Brainstorm ideas that let everyone participate. Taking action builds hope.
These simple steps will maintain morale and avoid inertia. That’s what leaders do. Help your team to help you. Go out of your way to encourage action and give sincere thanks for results. Just as importantly, express authentic gratitude for enthusiasm.
Like all recessions, this one will end too. If your business is struggling, step up to the plate and be the manager. Calm seas don’t make good sailors. To paraphrase comedian, Jonathan Winters, if your ship is not coming in, swim out to meet it.