Top-Shelf Tip No. 078:

"Successful people recognize crisis as a time for change—from lesser to greater, smaller to bigger."

Edwin Louis Cole

Crisis: Are You Prepared?

Success in a crisis hinges on leadership and decision-making, but those decisions are best when informed by trusted advisors and implemented by capable people. Does your business have a crisis management team? Promotional Consultant Today ends the week with this story about White Star Textile Services.

During the Midwest floods in 1993, White Star Textile Services in Des Moines, Iowa, found itself faced with an ironic situation. The encroaching floodwaters had shut down all six pumps at the local water plant and there wasn’t even enough water to flush toilets, let alone process 100,000 pounds of laundry each week. White Star implemented a plan to truck laundry to two sister plants in other towns but it wasn’t sufficient. The company desperately needed water.

White Star employees rose to the challenge. A maintenance worker who lived on a farm on high ground had a well and allowed the company to draw 2,000 gallons of water to keep the boiler running. Other employees worked overtime to keep up with the demand. Others kept track of which roads were open or closed, and helped expedite customer deliveries. Despite being without water for more than a month, White Star never missed a single day of customer service.

Crises require a team approach. The story of White Star points out the importance of having a team approach to crisis. To be an effective leader, one needs the support of a good crisis management team. A major mistake is to develop a team that only meets during a crisis. A much better approach is to use the people you rely on each day who are used to working with each other and, most importantly, trust each other.

There are four questions you should ask when developing your crisis management team.

Whom do you trust? Successful managers surround themselves with people they trust. These are the people you turn to for everyday problems and the people whose opinion you seek on new ideas. Most importantly, they’re the people whom you will listen to when they tell you that you are wrong.

Whom do your employees trust? In any organization there is a formal organizational structure and an informal one. The closer these two mirror each other, the more efficient the company. This informal structure is represented by employees whom other employees look up to and trust. While these individuals may or may not be added to your crisis management team, they can be used to “take the pulse” of employees, act as conduits for information and help implement your action plan.

What skills will you need? Some people are obvious choices for your team. But consider others who may not be so obvious. For example, many crisis management teams neglect to include people who interface with customers and suppliers on a regular basis. Not all of these people need to be decision makers to provide important advice and suggestions.

Who has the information you need? Information is the cornerstone of decision-making. Some of that information is internal. Do you know where to find it? For some problems, a maintenance person with intimate knowledge of a plant’s operating systems might be more useful than the manager who supervises. What about external sources? An employee who has built a solid working relationship with public safety agencies or your insurance company can get information that is not always available through the media. Speaking of which, who will monitor broadcast and social media?

Augment your core management group with the additional staff and skills you need as a crisis escalates and you significantly improve your ability to manage crises.

Source: Lucien G. Canton, CEM, is a consultant specializing in preparing managers to lead better in crisis by understanding the human factors often overlooked in crisis planning. A popular speaker and lecturer, he is the author of the best-selling “Emergency Management: Concepts and Strategies for Effective Programs.”

Compiled by Cassandra Johnson

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