Business Library

From Crisis Management to Controlled Management

Lisa Dunbar - Senior Project Associate | New Directions Consulting

I’ve heard it said many times by managers that “I work best under pressure,” or “I’m constantly being pulled into one crisis after another all day long.” The talk of crisis management for many leaves them exhilarated, excited and empowered by the unpredictable, feeling good at the end of the day that the problems of the moment are solved.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. The truth is, that as years go by, we develop consistent work habits, and because we are creatures that strive on stability, we work hard to maintain the status quo each and every day. So even though a day of fire-fighting is exhausting, we do little to interrupt the pattern. Don’t get me wrong. Crisis management causes solutions that drive to the desired result; if it didn’t, we wouldn’t continue to do it. However, that is all it does.

Today’s managers need more than just meeting the crisis of the moment; they need to be anticipating customer needs, improving the execution of all processes and deliverables, designing contingency plans that can be implemented immediately without input, empowering a more resourceful and competent work force, coaching a next generation of leaders and as individuals, and continuing to grow and further themselves. Leaders who practice crisis management as their primary mode of operation will not find the time for these activities. So, how would others describe your leadership style: crisis management or controlled management?

Here are a few ideas to consider in 2010:

1. Get off the carousel. It’s hard to make changes in your work habits when you are traveling 100 miles an hour. The first quarter is a perfect time to step back and reflect on the past year’s goals and achievements and set new ones. However, leaving behind crisis management means stopping long enough to do a fierce inventory of your current work habits and make commitments to change. As change management teaches us, “seek the truth in every situation.” If you want to get the real picture, complete a time audit and analyze it for trends.

2. Recognize that today’s glory is tomorrow’s sacrifice. Even though it feels good to be the “manager of the hour” and get the glory for fixing the problem of the day, the truth is we are spending our time fixing what’s broken and never have time to improve the process and attack the root cause so that we anticipate problems before they happen.

3. Gain clarity on the 20% you need to do to be 80% successful. Operating in crisis management means the squeaky wheel gets our attention. We are driven by others’ demands and priorities, and the work we had hoped to accomplish in the day, well, is still there tomorrow. We suggest the use of a tool that helps you capture your department’s mission, vision for the future and strategic objectives on one sheet. It’s a visual reminder of what needs to be accomplished out of the day-to-day. Work Breakdown Plans help take those goals and put feet and timelines to them so that they don’t get forgotten the minute they are unveiled. Having quarterly meetings to revisit these goals and report on progress is a good way to make sure everyone is on track and moving forward.

4. Use meetings most effectively. Meeting structure tends to go out the window in crisis management unless protocols have been defined and become common place. Having good meeting structure with a protocol, agenda, scribe notes and action items in place gives you a foundation for efficiency and consistency across the organization. Using an agreed upon process for problem solving allows the key players to put their focus on reaching good solutions.

5. Define accountability and responsibility. Lack of role clarity, authority and responsibility is one of the major factors in workplace conflicts and inefficiency. Use of a chart to plot major tasks points out where there is role confusion, multiple people with accountability and overburdened or under-utilized staff members.

6. Empower your workforce to make good decisions. When we operate in crisis management, we go with the quickest idea to implement and make course corrections later. I do agree that it is better to make quick decisions than no decision at all; however, the goal is to have the time to make well-thought out and explored decisions, using all your talent to tackle the problem. With certain tools managers can anticipate how decisions will affect all facets of the organization, illuminate trouble spots and ultimately, make better decisions with less course correction. Ideally, plans can be crafted ahead of time, warding off problems before they occur.

Many managers do not realize there are useful tools that can help them stay out of crisis management. Make a promise to yourself in 2010 to consciously shift out of crisis management and move toward the controlled management style that will make you feel successful at the end of the day.

Lisa Dunbar is a 23-year veteran of organizational development with New Directions Consulting and specializes in time management and workplace efficiencies.