It doesn’t matter whether your running a piece of day-to day business, a network of 140 agencies or on a shoot – there’s always a chance something can (and unless you have your eyes open – will) go infuriatingly wrong. The wind will get up, thunder will clap, lightning will flash – but as Colonel Custer famously said: ‘it’s not how you get knocked down; it’s how you get back up’ that really counts.
Every crisis will undoubtedly have its own set of unique circumstances and variables but there are some common principles that can be applied to dig your way out of a hole.
First, do not panic or freak out, even if others around you do. Slow shit down. Get into the slow mo moment. Take a walk. Your team and the client are looking to you to see how serious the problem is, and to take control of the situation, address the problem and get out the atmosphere out of chaotic misinformation & rumour-ville.
Of course, it stands to reason that you are not going to do your best and clearest thinking on how to solve the problem if you are in panic mode. That said, you should also never dismiss the importance of a true crisis, because it will appear that either you don’t care or are not savvy enough to recognize the severity of the situation. Woody Allen claims that ‘80% of success in life is just showing up’. Be present, available & open. Better still establish a ‘war room’ so that you and the team can gather to discuss.
Second, gather all the facts, input and knowledge – chart the crisis – as quickly as you can. Pin this shit up on the walls of the ‘war room’. Speed is important to be able to take quick command of the situation. But it must be balanced with getting sufficient information to enable you to get a full understanding so you can make an informed decision.
Once you land in a plan or action to address the crisis, balance it off knowledgeable and trusted constituencies. Seek counsel. You are not alone. Get a ‘war cabinet.’
Share your proposed solution with your boss or your colleagues or someone whose opinion or acumen you respect. And don’t get hung up on your solution as the only one that can work. Be open to suggestions that can improve your thinking or even change it radically.
Before you make a final/formal solution recommendation, play some ‘war games’ together with your ‘war cabinet’ in your ‘war room’.
Go through the exercise of thinking through things like:
- How will the client receive your recommendation?
- Will this recommendation put the client in the best possible light?
- What is Plan B, if the recommendation doesn’t work?
- Are you prepared to review the other considered and rejected solutions and say why they’ve been rejected?
Whether your solution works or doesn’t work, learn from it.
Write it up as a case history or file memo so others can learn from it. Truth be told, you can’t learn how to handle a crisis by reading an e-mail about it.
You have to experience it.
And crucially – what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.