What are points of attention in crisis management ?

Author: Manu Steens

In this contribution I give my own opinion, not that of any organization.

A friend once told me “I don’t need advice, nobody has to give it to me”. The reason behind those words was that she has a very strong feeling that “advice” as a word actually has an addictive effect, making the advised person dependent on the advisor. Later, according to her, this would be revenged when you can no longer think or act independently. Yet I use the word advice here because I have no better word. In my experience with crises, there are a number of things that you should pay attention to.

Things to pay attention to

Be kind to yourself.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. That’s why you have to have time for yourself, for your spirit – and body. So that you don’t outrun yourself. During some crises, such as during the corona crisis, I started very motivated. In three months I saved almost 1.5 months in overtime. It is therefore not only important that you recover (part of) this during and after the crisis, it is also important that you stop yourself in between. That you are there for yourself. For me, a shave was such a moment, sometimes a cup of coffee. For others, that may be reading the newspaper with a croissant. In a prolonged crisis, it is important that you learn to quickly and effectively press a pause button at times.

Know your business.

There is nothing more frustrating than dealing with a crisis and not finding the ends you can pull to unravel the problem. You are the crisis manager. There is need for action NOW. You are in the middle of the arena and you have to pull all the strings in the right order to get a good result. To survive that “fight”, you must have weapons. 

But having weapons is not enough. You must know how to deal with it easily. They must be an extension of yourself. Like driving a car, you should no longer have to think “where is the brake?”. Braking should be automatic. The deployment of people and resources as well. To do this, you have to be able to count on your people and resources. But you have to know them: you have to know what they stand for, what they can do, what you can expect.

Be a leader, a coach, a manager, an entrepreneur,…

But above all, be human. Crisis management is 90% communication, so make sure you stay human. Communicate from person to person. Do not fall into the trap of giving blind orders, without an eye for the human nature of yourself and your fellow man. Yes you can have expectations. You have to give orders. Yes you have to ask for information and yes they have to obey. And yet, no, humans are not machines. A wink, a pat on the back, a “please” and “thank you” on the right time can sometimes do wonders. Leave everyone in their dignity.

“Dress for the occasion”.

Some people think that work is official, and therefore requires a suit. In some functions, that may be true. A CEO who should report the situation in the board perhaps best uses a suit and tie. A spokesperson appearing for the press may do so also. Still, my advice in this area is: dress in such a way that you feel best in it. A crisis team is not an army platoon … You don’t need a uniform. Be yourself to maximize your return, including with regard to your clothing.

Create a reward prospect, and occasionally celebrate the achieved milestones.

Humans are not machines. Plugging in is sometimes difficult , but turning it off is not simply possible. People like to have a word of appreciation in between, they also like a bright spot at the end of the tunnel. For crisis management it is important that a bright spot is created here and there in the course of the battle. After a few months of Covid19, we were already talking about what we want after the crisis. Our teams had a unanimous wish: a BBQ at the end of the ride. In between, after one year, we were spoiled with a meal by a chef. It must not always be super-de-luxe. The important thing is that the team members can also enjoy themselves together. Because a crisis also creates a bond between people that goes beyond work. A crisis creates a common enemy. And that creates a “brother and sisterhood”. ” The blood of the convent is thicker than the water of the womb.” Applies. There is a “we” feeling. The value thereof is inestimable.

Watch your diet and exercise.

A good mood is very important to keep a healthy soul in a healthy body. Diet and exercise are important factors for this. You are what you eat and exercise releases happiness hormones in the brain, which are necessary for psychological energy. Fibers in food is important because the spirit of the soul and the fluency of digestion are always closely linked.

Make sure you know yourself.

Look for yourself before you have to deal with a crisis. What do you love? And what makes you happy? What gives you energy? At what time of day do you usually have your good ideas? Man is a creature of habit. Therefore, always look for such moments when the situation becomes difficult. Check with yourself that you are not in danger of outrunning yourself. Burnout in the middle of a crisis is of no use to anyone. It has no added value and it weakens your team, because your expertise is no longer or less present. Therefore, make sure you realize whether you are in balance. If not, do something about it immediately. Explore yourself in peacetime. Know your limits.

Radical is not wrong.

Go for the solution. Instant and unstoppable. Choose the best solution, and don’t be afraid to make sacrifices. Sometimes situations are simple. E.g. you may have to extinguish a fire. You should not doubt whether you are doing the right thing with that extinguishing, because either everything sees white, or everything sees black. Although I believe in the values ​​of Daniel Kahneman (author of ‘Thinking fast and slow’), I am convinced that speed of thought is also important in a crisis. But to be able to do that meaningfully, this ‘thinking fast’ must be trained. In addition to making exercises with fast thinking, a lot of ‘slow thinking’ also serves this purpose. That slow thinking is ideal for making plans in advance, because at that moment it allows you to think radically through hypothetical situations. Exploring and investigating every possible twist of the plan. And you have to keep planning for that. You can go up to the level where you think it is still realistic, and then you have to dare to go a step further. Only practice makes perfect, also in thinking. Don’t stick to one worst case scenario. Make many.

Keep smiling !

Humor is not evident in a crisis. Nevertheless, it is absolutely necessary to have a humor (if necessary, black) when the accident affects the organization or people. That sounds antisocial, and it is. But humor and laughter are the best weapons to face a new crisis and to continue to deal with it. In Africa, there are tribes of people who, when disaster strikes, are gathering and begin laugh about their misery. They have the experience that the disaster seems much smaller and more manageable afterwards. And they build up the courage to fight it. Laughter is therefore also healthy in a crisis! A tip that is not out of place here is to prepare the meetings with a presentation tool, and to place a photo or drawing in it on the first and last slide that shows the seriousness with a wink. However, there is a danger of exaggeration. One has to watch out for that.

The Four Laws of Antifragile

Even during a crisis, measures are taken that must be weighed up against necessary and sufficient. Strictly speaking, the following four criteria apply to measures: they must

  • be proportional,
  • be prudent,
  • be effective,
  • be efficient.

But these four rules only become applicable when one wants to consider the quality of a measure. There are also four interpretable rules that contribute to the creation of a measure:

  1. don’t hurt yourself,
  2. do no harm to another,
  3. don’t break anything,
  4. if it doesn’t go against these first three rules, take your chances.

These rules can be interpreted according to the situation, because the main crises affect people in a statistical way, and sometimes interventions have to be done in a statistical way. That’s the burden a crisis manager carries.

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields.

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