Recent worldwide events have caused me to reflect on some of the basic management omissions that occur in businesses. Essentially, a country is an organisation on a larger scale. Understand one and you will understand the other. So translate the recent stand- off in Egypt into business terms where the board of directors, the shareholders, the customers and the staff are demanding that the CEO step down.
The CEO locks himself into his office, cuts off all means of communication and announces that he intends to stay put or die in office. The business is in crisis because no one has actually been trained and developed to step in should crisis occur.

 

One of the basic tenets of an organisation is that no one person is indispensable. The organisation must be set up so that the systems, the roles, the skills, and the structure can flourish regardless of who is at the helm. Can you imagine Bill Gates allowing a situation which risked Microsoft collapsing if he should retire, resign or, God forbid, die? I doubt it. And yet I see many companies doing just that.

So, let’s look at what a business can do to ensure that it can survive a crisis.

 

  • Plan and Prevent: Evaluate ways in which your company would be most open to disaster. This could be an internal crisis such as the death of a CEO or senior figure, a financial downturn, the discovery of fraud, a strike or walk out or other such dangers. Or it could be an external crisis such as a natural disaster or recession. 
  • Be pro-active about risk management: Have an internal ‘alarm system’. Make sure you have a strong succession strategy in place. Pay attention to what is happening from product problems to employee issues. These could be early warning signals that a crisis is on its way. 
  • Prepare: Create your crisis plan before it is needed. Have a crisis management manual and team in place. Research shows that those who prepare ahead make considerable savings if a disaster should strike. Consult the experts - there are plenty of resources out there who can help. 
  • Involve and communicate: Every person in an organisation should be familiar with emergency plans. These plans are not just for major crises. All directors, managers, supervisors and team leaders should have a plan in place to meet unforeseen circumstances in their own areas of responsbility. These include the departure for any reason of your highest performers or other valued staff at whatever level. 

 

It goes without saying that a strong performance management system must be implemented and closely managed, otherwise you will miss possible warnings. These must also include a ‘system down’ situation or the cutting off of telephone lines. This happened to me at a previous company when council workers outside our building inadvertently cut off our telephone lines for three days. And no mobiles or internet existed then!

If you manage a team, you should pay attention to the amount of your time they waste by asking you for help, advice, information or permission. How much authority do they have? Do you have a competent deputy who can take over at a moment’s notice and make all the decisions (administrative and financial) that you do? All competent leaders and managers should have a ‘Just in case something happens to me...’ plan. Your deputy should know exactly what you are working on, what your current projects and plans are, where your files are kept and what to do in an emergency.

Good stewardship is the hallmark of responsible management. Hold regular practice sessions: Just like your regular fire drills, you need to have a disaster drill. Ask your team what they would do if you were struck down by illness and you were allowed no contact with anyone for an indefinite period. Would they all know exactly what they had to do? What areas would they find challenging?

You may have a contingency plan that involves another manager or director taking over your duties. This may work for a very short time in an emergency but it is not a viable solution for the longer term. Nobody has spare capacity these days. If another person could comfortably manage two departments or sections, then you were over staffed to begin with. And if you are part of a team, it is useful to have a ‘buddy’ on the team who knows what you are involved with, what your daily responsibilities and tasks are: someone who is familiar with your role and responsibilities. This way, your buddy can ensure your highest priorities are dealt with if you should be prevented from working for a time. Knowing who does what and when while dealing with a disaster gives everyone a sense of control and security.

Don’t get caught short. As the saying goes, ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. For more information on this and other management issues, see www.HodaLacey.co.uk or contact me on HodaLacey@aol.com

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