Crisis Management Lessons from Hurricane Irene
4 Tips for Your Business to Weather the Next Storm
Hurricane Irene has left the radar, but her effects will be felt and dealt with for some time. In the days leading up to the storm, governments, businesses, and homeowners had time to prepare and, in drastic cases, evacuate. How well you and your constituents weather a crisis often depends on the strength of leadership, dedication of front-line employees, and accurate and timely flow of information. Here are 4 crisis management lessons to help your business weather the next storm.
1. Confident and decisive leadership.
A successful business requires a leader with a vision and the ability to carry it out. A crisis demands that leaders know what must be done to ensure the safety of their workers and constituents, protect their business and assets from potential harm, and be able to resume operations with as little disruption as possible.
At times that will require leaders to make tough choices while in other instances the leader will need to step back and let other experts take the lead. Even in those circumstances the leader has the ultimate responsibility and must ensure that the right questions are being asked and the best possible solutions are enacted.
Leaders need to remain visible and accessible throughout the crisis to show that they are actively involved in the situation and not managing from afar (while obviously remaining safe). Although technology makes it possible for leaders to communicate with virtually anyone from anywhere, being present is a sign of confidence and solidarity at a crucial time. Remember that leaders have families, too, who are often left to manage for themselves while their spouse or parent takes charge for the greater good of their government or business.
Other aspects of strong crisis leadership include having dependable team leaders upon whom they can rely, and the ability to focus on all of your constituents affected by the situation. Depending on your organization and the circumstances, these can include your employees, customers, resellers, partners, service providers, and investors as well as neighbors and the media.
How would your leaders respond in a crisis? Would they stand tall through the dilemma, or bury their heads in the sand waiting for the storm to blow over?
2. Employees who thrive on the front line.
You can’t fight a war with only generals and admirals. Even the best-laid plans and unwavering leadership require the dedication, perseverance, and selfless actions of front-line staff to get through the crisis.
When we think of front-line workers in dire situations, first to come to mind are the military (including the National Guard), police, firefighters, and EMTs who protect and serve. In a weather-related crisis such as Hurricane Irene, the list of unsung heroes extends to utility workers, public works employees, and many members of the local government staff who are responsible for establishing and manning shelters or receiving and disseminating coordinated communications.
Some people naturally thrive in these situations and spring into action without hesitation, relying on their training and instincts. Others need to summon the courage to do what’s needed. The workers at the nuclear plants in Japan after the tsunami displayed remarkable courage in their selfless choice to remain in a life-threatening situation and attempt to prevent further catastrophe by operating the reactors.
Dependable front-line employees are found not only by examining their backgrounds, but also assessing their behaviors to determine how they’ll respond. Can you count on your workers to help protect your assets and minimize the damage? Can you rely on your staff to go above and beyond when a crisis hits?
3. Maintain a steady flow of information.
Sometimes not knowing can be maddening. One clear benefit of social media is the ability to stay connected and informed. Throughout Hurricane Irene, as my family was hunkered down in the basement, I monitored the local and national news outlets on TV, and followed them as well as my local government, utility company, neighbors, and friends through email, Twitter, Facebook, and text messages. Newscasters could announce tornado warnings to give area residents enough time to seek shelter, friends in the neighborhood could check to see if anyone else had lost power, and the utility company was reporting how many customers were without service and what their response times were.
Of course the effectiveness of your communications is dependent upon an effective communicator in both manner and timing. With so many talking heads during a crisis, you start to notice who is an eloquent, natural speaker and who isn’t. That could also come from fatigue, so rotate your people if necessary to give them breaks to refresh themselves and regroup. You want to be able to trust what you’re hearing and not be distracted by how overwhelmed the communicator seems.
Does your business have a crisis communication plan? Who will be responsible to talk to reporters? How will you stay in touch to receive and disseminate critical information that could have dire consequences?
4. Learn from your experiences.
As the US Navy sailed more than a dozen ships out to sea in advance of Hurricane Irene’s impact, the group’s leader was quoted as saying that they’ve learned a lot since Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. The ships were spared during the brunt of Irene, and the military were able to immediately reverse their direction and provide aid and assistance wherever needed.
While that likely doesn’t comfort residents of New Orleans and others affected by Katrina, it does help to know that the lesson was learned and steps were taken to correct and improve the decision-making, actions, and responses.
Some mistakes and shortcomings will be obvious. But to capture the ideas and opinions of those on the front lines, hold an after-action review to get input on what worked and what didn’t. Listen to your customers and constituents to hear their praise and criticisms. Consider establishing an independent panel to evaluate and review the circumstances and actions of the leaders, front-line staff, communications, and processes. And if changes are recommended, don’t wait too long to implement them.
There are countless other details and aspects to each situation, sometimes not the least of which is luck. But relying on luck alone is foolhardy. Strong leadership, effective front-line staff, and a smooth flow of information will position you for the best possible outcome in a crisis. When the next crisis threatens, will your organization be prepared?
Image Credit: www.nasa.gov