Don’t let a good business crisis go to waste!

      2 Comments on Don’t let a good business crisis go to waste!

Hurricanes are a crisis. A murder charge is a crisis. So’s bankruptcy.


Most organizational crises are simply a construct – they are actually a learning opportunity.

Some organizations love a crisis to come bursting through the door.

It’s almost a competitive sport…you get extra points for making it sound like a deadly situation. “It’s a near catastrophe!” they tell their spouse arriving home late in the evening.

“The media are hounding us for answers…!’  “The team is ready to quit…”  ‘The union’s threatening action if we don’t….!”

Meetings are called to amplify the crisis, look for unexploded bombs and root causes and ‘get some answers on the table!’

‘When things go right it’s hard to figure out why, but when things go wrong it’s really easy.’ – Steven Soderbergh

Other organizations make a crisis an exercise in denial. They examine every issue in excruciating detail. Horrified, instead of responding, they delay decisions and live to survive another day.

The most blatant example of a manufactured crisis was the demise HP’s leadership by a board who know how to make a monkey of themselves.

If you can smile when things go wrong, you have someone in mind to blame. – Unknown

What do you do when things appear to be going sideways? Slow down and try this solutions driven approach. 

1. Don’t underrate the possible severity of the current situation, but do clarify and contextualize it:

Despite the crisis, what’s working? Overall? Around the problem?

On a scale of 1 (really bad) to 10 (we’ll thrive), where are we?

If the number is low, say 2, ask, ‘How come it’s not a 1, or a -1?’

2. Get people to think of alternative scenarios – what will it be like when the problem no longer exists, or no longer dominates?:

Suppose things get better. What will that look like? (look at it from different stakeholder perspectives)

If there’s a hostile stakeholder, ask, ‘What will have happened to make them less hostile?’ (Without simply acquiescing to their demands)

What will we have learned to do differently in the future?

 3. Make some decisions about your goals and what action to take:

Suppose we learn and we make progress, what goals and strategies will we have set that get us there?

Thinking of the 1-10 number we gave ourselves, what small first steps would we see ourselves taking to move up one point? What will we do more of? What will we do differently?

Will this get you through most organizational crises? Yes, if you take them seriously, not literally. Some may actually be an organizational mistake. Regardless, turn them into organizational learning / development opportunities and speed up recovery.

And, don’t forget a good place to avoid creating a crisis is in meetings.


2 thoughts on “Don’t let a good business crisis go to waste!

  1. James T Pereira

    What I’ve come to realise while coaching and consulting for small business owners is that many don’t have an AIDMAP (that’s my tweak of the mundane business plan), that can steer them through roiling waters.
    I’ve spent 22 years with MNCs and they are the same too – there’s some sort of denial that crises can hit them. It’s some sort of superiority complex. So they don’t bother spending time evaluating contingencies and solutions and how to use a crisis for positive reputation management.

    1. Alan Kay

      Yes, many small business owners have the business plan in their head and it’s loosely held in divergent ways among the staff. Usually, the leader acts as firefighter when a crisis arises and then things go back to ‘normal’ without much learning having been shared. So, it’s leadership issue – the leader can’t let go.

      The question I might ask the leader is, ‘Suppose your staff were to successfully deal with a crisis while you were out of contact with your company, what would you see them doing to get to a solution?’ I’d resist the notion that the staff couldn’t do it by asking, ‘What small things might they do to get started?’

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