Managing a crisis at work

A client of mine had a crisis last week. They found that a large order which they had been working on for weeks and which was scheduled to be shipped the next day to a new and very important customer was faulty. The project, and the relationship with the new customer and all potential business with them, was in serious jeopardy. Oh woe!!!!

What was needed was one key person to have a cool head.  Here is what that person did. He gathered key people together, those who were essential to running the project and who could help find solutions. He kept his cool while they were complaining, wailing and pulling hair, and he got them sufficiently calm so they could  rationally discuss:

  • Priorities: triage, what had to be done to keep the project alive. Costs at this stage of the relationship were less important than keeping the new customer.
  • Communications: what had to be communicated, to whom, by whom, and in what format.
  • Mindset: key people had to focus on the present and the future, not on analysing the past; they had to be solutions oriented, if necessary to find new ways to solving problems; they had to believe and communicate the belief that solutions could and would be found; they had to be humble and ask for help from wherever possible, even from the customer.

Later, once the crisis has been worked through, they agreed to find a quiet time to reflect and learn. They plan to:

  • Identify root causes of the crisis and analyse the roles of people involved. Responsibilities would be identified, less to blame people (although there might be negative consequences like loss of pay), and more to identify any development needs.
  • Identify permanent solutions and other changes to prevent such a crisis or a similar crisis in the future.
  • Reflect on the gut reaction to the crisis at the time to understand more about the culture of the company in times of crisis, and the level of its collective emotional battery.

This is not a bad model for handling a crisis. Print it out and keep it nearby – you may find it handy for your next crisis!




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