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December 2018

Expect the Unexpected

The Keys to Surviving a Significant Strategic Disruption

By Jill J. Johnson

Despite the best of intentions and a solid strategic plan, leaders can sometimes find their organizations in the throes of an unexpected major crisis that threatens their enterprise survival. Whether it is the culmination of changing market forces, a self-inflicted incident or the result of a catastrophe brought about by an unexpected event, enhancing opportunities for enterprise survival are paramount.

The most effective crisis management strategies focus on addressing the critical elements that will enhance the survival potential of your enterprise during a significant strategic disruption.

In a medical disaster, health-care professionals use a triage process to assign degrees of urgency to patients to establish priorities for treating them in order to maximize the number of survivors. The same principle can be a powerful approach for effectively dealing with a crisis situation in any business setting. The goals of strategic triage are the same: to determine the priority of your actions to make a significant difference in your outcome.

There are three critical elements of focus to weather an extinction level event. You need clarity to make rapid decisions. Your leadership activity must identify the most significant priorities to stabilize your immediate situation so you can act on them. Your conversations need to engage candid dialog with your team.

Clarify the Key Decisions to Be Made
Once you recognize you are in a strategic crisis, focus your critical thinking on the key decisions that will matter the most to resolving it. This includes clearly understanding the underlying dynamics that led to the crisis. To do this, you need to rapidly obtain candid information about your true situation. How serious is this? Do you have the proper data to understand the magnitude of the crisis, and the options you have for addressing it?

Planning in a turbulent period requires a deep assessment of your business environment. This may be the time to bring in trusted advisors to provide you with insight about options to consider. Just make sure they have the depth of expertise to truly offer advice. You do not want to be part of their learning curve when the stakes are high.

Identify the critical strategic information you need to make decisions. Be clear about the outcome you desire. Do you want to save lives, save jobs or save money? This clarity will serve as your guide when you evaluate your options and choices.
Assess your assumptions and understand the market forces at play that will determine your ability to resolve the crisis. Concentrate your critical thinking to focus on the things that matter most to resolving the short-term issue without blowing up your entire enterprise. Focus on the very heart of the key decisions you will need to make. Everything else is extraneous and a potential distraction when you are in the throes of a real strategic crisis.

Establish Clear Priorities
The success of any strategic triage effort is to clarify the most significant short-term priorities. Developing clarity among all participants will help them stay focused on the activities that will work to immediately stabilize the situation. All too often, without a clear focus, if left to their own devices, team members will use their own judgment to focus on activities they deem important. Unfortunately, if they lack good critical thinking skills, they are likely to focus on efforts with minimal impact.

Establishing clear priorities for your leadership team and employees provides each of them with a clear focus for engaging in efforts that improve the potential for your enterprise survival. These priorities establish a framework for decision-making and minimize any focus on irrelevant issues or activities that will not resolve the problem.

Ensure all your team members and corporate assets are in proper alignment. Everything that is essential to addressing the issue should be deployed toward resolving the crisis. Use everything.

Engage in Candid Dialog
Engage your key leaders in a candid dialog to identify what they immediately need from their key employees to stabilize the situation or resolve the crisis. Ask your team members to identify your potential options to work around the gaps caused by the crisis. Use your clarified priorities to give them guidance. By taking control of your communications you will also be better able to manage your message and focus your talking points during the emergency.

In times of strategic crisis, candor is paramount. This is not the time for pretending and wish-crafting your troubles away. Identify what you need from each of your stakeholders to resolve the crisis or to stabilize the immediate situation. Identify the most crucial leadership skills you need to deal with the most pressing issues. Do you have the talent in-house or do you need outside resources?

Evaluate your team’s willingness and capability to step-up to fill the leadership void. Assess your team’s resolve and commitment to turning the situation around. Are they willing to do what it will take to solve the crisis? You need to know whom you can rely on when the stakes are high.

Be sure to engage with your key stakeholders both inside and outside your organization. By having a candid dialog with your critical stakeholders, you optimize your potential to gain their support and influence to work with you in addressing the crisis. They may have additional ideas and insight, too, for how to best address the situation or minimize disruptions.

Final Thoughts:
Whether it is the loss of your primary customer, the death of a key employee or surviving the zombie apocalypse, maximizing your options and prioritizing your efforts are essential. Managing your own panic and terror will help you focus your critical thinking on the key decisions you need to address and find the right advisors to assist you in weathering the storm.

Jill J. Johnson is the president and founder of Johnson Consulting Services, a speaker, a management consultant and author of the bestselling book Compounding Your Confidence. For more information, visit jcs-usa.com.

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