What Leaders Need To Do To Successfully Resolve A Crisis

4 critical steps that every leader should take in order to successfully resolve a crisis within their organization.

The following is a guest piece by Jim Lukaszewski.

Most crisis plans that are actually completed these days are so complicated and compartmentalized that it defies even the most skillful leader’s abilities to lead effectively. Too many crisis plans focus on external issues and the media rather than providing a simple, sensible, constructive, achievable response strategy. I have advocated for many years the concept of the Grand Strategy to drive crisis response using the Golden Hour metaphor as the driving force.

Very few management problems are crises, but all crises are management problems. Preplanning executive actions and decisions can avoid career-defining moments. Include specific executive leadership instructions in all plans and response scenarios.

The Grand Strategy is a 5-step leadership-driven process. Note the word “process.” This is a powerful management approach. It’s called the Golden Hour Strategy because the intention is to launch all five steps within the first 60-120 minutes of a crisis incident, whatever the crisis happens to be. Here now are those five important steps:

1. Stop the production of victims
Continuous victim production is what drives the media coverage, the public interest, the emotionalization, the commentary and criticism from 1000 different sources not even present, but focused on reputation destruction.

2. Manage the victim dimension
This is what leaders and senior managers should be doing rather than hanging around and second-guessing the command center.

3. Calm and settle employees down
Communicate directly and frequently with employees, stakeholders, and those directly affected.

4. Notify those indirectly affected
Specifically, you need to notify those who have a problem now because you have a problem. Depending on your situation, this might include regulators, licensing authorities, neighbors, partners, collaborators, key stakeholders, as well as those who need to know and who should hear from you very promptly.

5. Manage the self-appointed and the self-anointed
This group refers to the news media and the new media, those who opt in on their own, the critics, the bellyachers, the backbench bickerers, and/or the bloviators.

This is the strategy management needs to help all responders focus on what matters most and first. Far too many response plans have only legacy media public relations driven tactics. Crisis response is a management responsibility driven by a simple, sensible, constructive, positive, and clearly achievable strategy. The strategy needs to be productive, capable of being managed and led successfully by leaders and managers.

The Golden Hour Metaphor

The first hour or two of crisis situations are often referred to as the Golden Hour or hours. The phrase comes from military medicine at the close of World War II, and during the Korean conflict.

Military medical studies indicated that the single most prevalent cause of death for wounded soldiers was blood loss, the failure to get these individuals into serious life-saving medical treatment quickly after being wounded. They were bleeding to death in the Jeeps driving them to the hospitals located in rear areas of the battlefield.

The helicopter, which was brought into ever wider military use following World War II, was the perfect vehicle to get wounded soldiers quickly off the battlefield. But one more critical component was needed. Surgical facilities had to be as close as possible to the battle lines to reduce even further the risks and damage associated with transporting the wounded to urgent care.

The U.S. Army came up with the mobile hospital concept, the” Mobile Army Surgical Hospital,” or MASH as they became widely known, just like the television show. These mobile facilities were located right on the battle line and moved with the progress of the battle.

Here’s the point, 96% of wounded soldiers who arrived alive at a MASH, regardless of the severity of their injuries, left the MASH alive.

To me, this is the perfect metaphor when combined with following the Grand Crisis Response Strategy to address what management has to be ready to accomplish in those first 60 to 120 dangerous, frightening and chaotic minutes of a crisis.

What the Boss Should Really Do in a Crisis

One of the more powerful weaknesses in crisis response is the lack of specific roles and assignments for top management. The result of this crucial gap in response planning is mismanagement, lack of management, or paralysis that afflicts response efforts. This defect occurs all too frequently in plans I review, responses I analyze, and scenarios I explore with client companies.

In the course of directing a client’s crisis response, analyzing past responses to crisis, or developing powerful response strategies, it’s clear to me that crisis response promptness and effectiveness depends on having four essential leadership responsibilities spelled out carefully in your crisis plans for the CEO (or surviving leaders):

1. Assert the moral authority expected of ethical leadership
No matter how devastating or catastrophic the crisis is, in most cultures forgiveness is possible provided the organization, through its early behaviors and leadership, takes appropriate and expected steps to learn from and deal with the issues. The behaviors, briefly and in order, are:

  • Candor and disclosure (acknowledgement that something adverse has happened or is happening)
  • Explanation and revelation about the nature of the problem (some early analysis)
  • Commitment to communicate throughout the process (even if there are lots of critics)
  • Empathy (intentional acts of helpfulness, kindness, and compassion)
  • Oversight (inviting outsiders, even victims, to look over your shoulders)
  • Commitment to zero (finding ways to prevent similar events from occurring again)
  • Restitution or penance (paying the price – generally doing more than would be expected, asked for, or required)

2. Take responsibility for the care of victims
The single most crucial element in any crisis, aside from ending the victim-causing event, is managing the victim dimension. There are only three kinds of victims: people, animals, and living systems.

It’s top management’s responsibility to see that appropriate steps are taken to care for victims’ needs. This is both a reputation preservation and a litigation reduction activity. Most devastating responses to crises occur when victims are left to their own devices, when victims’ needs go unfulfilled, or for whatever reasons (usually legal) the organization that created the victims refuses to take even the simplest of humane steps to ease the pain, suffering, and victimization of those afflicted.

Out of all of the CEO’s essential responsibilities, taking a personal interest and an active role in the care of victims is the most important. Maintain a positive, constructive pressure to get victim issues resolved promptly.

3. Set the appropriate tone for the organizational response
Tone refers to internal management behavior and language that helps the organization meet the expectations triggered by a crucial, critical, or catastrophic situation.

If senior management takes on the posture of being attacked, victimized or whining, the entire organization will react in the same way. Very rarely are large organizations and institutions considered victims. They’re generally considered to be the perpetrators at worst, or arrogant, aloof bystanders at best.

The most senior executive needs to set a constructive tone that encourages positive attitudes, language, and prompt responses. This approach protects the organization’s relationships with various constituents during the response and recovery period, shows respect for victims, and reduces the threat of trust or reputation damage.

4. Commit random acts of leadership at every level
Leaders acting like leaders has significance during urgent situations. Literally walk around and talk to people. Encourage, suggest, knock down barriers, and help everyone stay focused on the ultimate response process goals.

Random acts of leadership are always welcome in any environment, but especially during crisis. Rather than huddling in their executive offices trying to determine what steps should be taken to resolve the situation, ninety percent of senior executive activities should have executives out-and-about being leaders, motivators, and instigators of empathy.

Promptly caring for victims prevents re-victimization and helps the victims come to closure and provide sufficient evidence that enough lessons have been learned to avoid the need for litigation and other forms of public embarrassment and humiliation.

James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, Fellow IABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, BEPS Emeritus, is an international speaker, best-selling author, America’s Crisis Guru®, and President of The Lukaszewski Group Division. To learn more about James’ work, visit his website www.e911.com.

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Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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