Over the years I have handled several crises. My success depended on two actions. These actions were critical to success.
First, stay calm, analyze the situation and decide what you can do now in the current state.
Second, look at what you can do in the future in current and current states. This means in the next minute, hour, day, tomorrow, etc. Understand that as the current moves now during a crisis, the situation will change. The future of now can change your actions, so you must remain flexible.
You are always dealing in the current state while moving towards a future current state.
Here are some examples of what you might find useful.
My first crisis was simple. We close our restaurant at the Stafford Hotel from 2 pm to 4 pm every day. We kept our cafeteria open during this time. The cafeteria had few customers. I do the paperwork in my room during this time.
We had a new waitress. I explained that I had done a good process and I think you can gain more experience working in the cafeteria during this slow time. This is what we did.
I am in my room. I get a desperate call from Mrs. Walker, my cashier. She said, “You better come down here, you have a problem.”
I got to the cafeteria, it was full of customers. A tour bus had stopped at our hotel. My new waitress was not there. I went to the kitchen, she was crying. She said, “I can’t serve all those people.” I said, “Yes, we can. This is what we will do. I will start at the counter, you will start with a booth. We will serve one customer at a time. They will probably only want coffee and cake. We will only focus on one customer at a time.” . This is what we did. In the end, we serve all customers.
This is a simple crisis. But the method still stands. What can we do now? Stay calm and focus on now.
Over the years, I have handled more difficult situations. I saw firsthand that a major crisis can go beyond your resources. This means that you must gather the resources you need from other areas. Communication channels are the most important for these resources to come to your aid.
As the manager of the business office, I am in charge of keeping the lights on for our clients. At 4 p.m. on Good Friday, 1985, he was in the West Blocton office facing west. There was a black cloud approaching the office. He was new to this situation being the new manager. He had been a district accounting manager prior to this position. I saw what the Operations Department did during a snowstorm in February. Now, he would have to do this alone.
What to do now. I knew that trouble tickets would start printing shortly. I called my lineman at the office. We sit in my office and wait. The calm before the storm. Tickets were printed and we determined which areas to check first. They knew the distribution line system. We make decisions about which sections to review first. This was critical information.
My first time now, I knew I needed the help of the office lineman. This was key, I stayed calm and sought help.
I sent my office lineman to problem areas. They made the line re-energize, or let me know what it took to get it back on. The lineman found downed trees in lines and downed poles. I called the District office and let them know that we needed tree crews and help from Crew. Then I sent out the tree crews and line crews. We work all night. I got home at 10pm on Saturday.
Now, most importantly, on April 12, 2011, the Tuscaloosa Tornado. I worked as a supervisor in our Western Division Control Center. I scheduled dispatchers and helped them do their job. I was the coordinator of the broadcast control center in Birmingham. These roles were assigned to me before this storm. We saw the tornado on our television monitors. Every member of our team knew what our role would be. We were calm and ready, we were trained. We do our work earlier in other storms. This storm was bigger. We work 16 hours a day for eight days.
We use communication in a big way. Our division leaders came to the storm room prepared for this purpose. His goal was to analyze and anticipate our needs. These needs were tremendous. We had to get outside help from our company and our sister companies. We use contract crews, tree crews, and community agencies. These were the resources we needed to turn on the power for our clients.
Every member of our team knew their role. We were calm. We knew it would take days to get our clients up and running. We have never experienced a storm like this. In the end, there were more than three thousand clients that we could not serve; their buildings had disappeared.
The key to handling a crisis is to stay calm; You know the crisis is only temporary You must do what you can do now. How can you help your team in their duties? How can you get the outside help you need? It operates in the current state while preparing for a future state.
You are key to lead by example. Be like a calm duck above and paddling like hell below