Best Practices for Management in Times of Crisis

Crises are a fact of life in business. But many companies are not prepared to deal with a major crisis, whether it’s a natural disaster, accident or death, internal fraud, executive misconduct or product failure.

It’s easy for someone in a leadership position to become so bogged down by day-to-day operations that they fail to prepare themselves and their organization for a crisis, even though the costs involved with planning and training are a fraction of what it might cost a company to be caught in a crisis unprepared.

When handled appropriately by leadership, businesses can bounce back from crisis relatively unscathed. But when mishandled, a crisis, no matter how small, can produce aftershocks for years to come.

Traits of an effective leader in times of crisis

Dr. Suzanne Carter, Executive Director of TCU’s Executive MBA program and Professor of Professional Practice in Strategy, teaches her students the skills needed to manage in times of crisis. Carter says some of the key characteristics of a well-prepared leader include:

  • The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
  • Recognizing the potential for distortion of a business’ message in times of crisis. 
  • The ability to manage on a multi-front basis, addressing your company’s reputation with suppliers as well as your reputation with customers.
  • The ability to recognize which key stakeholders and engaging those stakeholders in a timely and appropriate manner.

Most recently, the world watched as leaders at Texas Health Presbyterian and the City of Dallas managed the Ebola scare in Dallas.

"The Ebola crisis speaks to the global nature of business and our society," says Carter. "You can't just pass the buck." A health crisis like Ebola has a contagion factor that impacts not only the industry itself (healthcare), but society as well.

"What's really important is to draw upon the experts, regardless of whether or not they're in the affected area," she says.

Communicating in times of crisis

Ultimately, dealing with a crisis isn’t about spinning the facts; it’s about communicating clearly with those inside and outside the organization. The truth will come out eventually, and when it does, it could be more damaging than the crisis itself. Therefore, managers need to communicate:

  • What they know.
  • When they learned it.
  • How they learned it.
  • What they are going to do to fix it as soon as possible.

How an organization responds to a crisis is a direct reflection of its leadership. Confusion, stress and anxiety are common during a crisis, and in these times, people look to leadership for direction. Clear communication about the facts and how those within the organization should conduct themselves can help minimize collateral damage.

"It's very important to be agile," says Carter. "Some people are more capable of seeing the wider implications of certain behaviors than others." The ability to see beyond what is right in front of you and implications down the road are good traits for a leader in a high-stress role. These are skills Carter wants to impart to her students.

Good leaders are well prepared, have an action plan in place and are able to communicate clearly with those within the organization and outside of the organization, keeping damage from the crisis at hand from spreading further.

Interested in getting a TCU MBA? Request more info about the Neeley School of Business graduate program or apply now.
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