Tackling a crisis at work

Crisis is a synonym of the job I do which is supply chain; both goes very much hand in hand. When you feel everything is going fine, some issue pops up from one of the many elements linking the supply chain together, and before you know it you are in a crisis, sometimes it can be things totally out of your control like bad weather, rough sea, etc…and sometimes it can be trivial things leading to a domino effect on other elements of the Supply Chain, like a truck driver not turning up for work in some part of the world.

Crisis is not limited to Supply Chain, every function in an organisation goes through crisis, from marketing to finance, without crisis life would be too easy and boring. I have navigated through several crisis situations in the past, but this time I had a very big one at hand, with a huge price tag on it to get it resolved. After spending a whole week including the weekend working and travelling to resolve the issue, I thought I should pen down a few thoughts about approaching a crisis at work.

Analyse the situation with a cool head

When you notice or hear from someone that you could have a potential crisis at hand, the first natural state your mind wanders to is panic, it can get worse if the financial impact of the issue is big, or you see that the situation at hand can spiral out of control. Panic doesn’t help anyone to tackle the situation well, so the first thing to solve before the Crisis is the Panic itself. I know it’s easier said than done, but one way to do that is to try to convince yourself that there is a way out of any situation. Because maintaining a cool head is important to find a way out. Working under panic can make things ever worse, as you might end up doing things that does not help the situation. So take it easy, walk away from your desk for some time, get a coffee and a snack, come back relaxed and then look at the issue.

Two brains and 4 eyes, are always better than 1 brain and 2 eyes

Worrying over the crisis situation, and trying to find a solution on your own, will not help to solve it any quicker. I had a boss who puts it best “Two brains and 4 eyes are always better than 1 brain and 2 eyes”, so rope in someone who have some background of the issue, and can help with analysing the situation. You will be amazed how two people approach the same situation differently, and sometimes people come up with stupidly simple solutions to the problem, that you start beating your head thinking why you never thought about it. So get someone else to have a look at the situation together with you, more the number of people higher the number of ideas. Keep an open mind and let them put all ideas that come to their mind on the table, doesn’t matter how stupid they might sound, and in the process you may come up with an excellent solution or several solutions to the problem at hand.

Focus on solution

In times of crisis its human nature to hide things and start pointing fingers, it’s also a common practice to start a witch hunt. In the whole process, people tend to forget to focus on the solution, and by the time they look into it the issue might have already gotten bigger. It’s important to have an understanding of why we reached the crisis situation, as it helps to find a solution and it also helps to answer questions coming from different corners which you will get to see a lot, but spend less time on the post-mortem and spend more time on focusing on finding a solution. You are always better off having a ‘how to’ get out of the situation plan in hand than just the ‘why’ we are in that situation analysis while communicating the crisis to others.

Present your case in a crisp manner to help with decision-making

Depending on how big the crisis is, you ultimately need to brief the management on the situation, as you may need them to make a few decisions to keep things moving towards a solution. The bigger the crisis the higher up it goes. When you brief the higher management keep it as simple as possible and to the point. Only get to the details when asked, sometimes you are so much involved in finding a solution that you get overwhelmed with information, try not to overwhelm others by just transferring all those information. Consider making the information as concise as possible, in a very easily readable manner, simple and to the point. Focus on four areas while presenting the issue to the management – what is the situation, why are we in this situation and what are our options to get out of the situation and what decisions or approvals do you need from them.

Rope in the right people at the right level

Once you have the solution and the decision from the management, then it’s time to approach the right people to get things moving. When we say right people, we are talking about people who can actually make decisions and get things moving rather than the ones who have to first go talk to someone else or get approval. So if you need the finance team for example to do a certain task to be able to come to a solution then go talk to the person at the right level in finance and ask for his support and then let that person cascade it down if needed, this way you save a lot of time and effort. It’s also important that you approach the right people in terms of knowledge level, some people have this tendency to try to help others even if they are not an expert in the area in which the other person needs help. So try not to approach these people, rather go to the experts it can help you to get to the solution quicker.

Pick up the phone or meet face to face, emails won’t cut the deal

Emails are not always the best way of communication if you are in an emergency situation. It doesn’t matter how good you are in written form of communication, a phone call or a face to face meeting always helps to effectively communicate the tone and emotions of a situation to the other person. For people every request coming their way is part of their work, when you send an email requesting certain things to be done it doesn’t carry any special weight over the other, for them it’s just a request among a pile of other requests in their inbox, but when you make a call and take them through the issue or have a discussion with that person face to face it brings a different dimension to it. Now they feel involved in what is needed to be done, now they understand what is required of them and how important it is to deliver it on time, so they automatically starts to prioritize it over others.

Keep the stakeholders informed on the progress

It’s important that you keep the stakeholders informed of the progress at all time. Remember, they are as worried and concerned about the situation as you are, so in order to avoid each of them contacting different people to find out how they are progressing, its better that you summarise the progress to them on a daily or weekly basis whichever works for them. If you don’t do that everyone starts emailing everyone asking for progress and then the people who are supposed to work on the solution will have to stop working on it and start replying to emails. So take the lead and maintain a single point of contact for this purpose.

Don’t lose steam, follow through on the action plans till it gets done

Nothing is over until it’s over. So it is important that you take the solution to its completion, don’t take your hands off after you have distributed the work to the people, make sure to coordinate, follow-up and help out when needed to make sure the solution is delivered and you are out of the crisis.

Plug the hole

Once you are out of crisis it’s time to focus on making sure that you are not back in the same crisis again. Capture the learning’s and make sure you address the shortcomings which lead to the crisis. It’s important to plug those holes which are leaking so that you don’t get the same issue again. Let new issues come in but not the same old one.