One thing is true in business, nothing will go right all of the time. Eventually you will face a crisis in your business. It could be internal like a project coming unhinged, team conflicts, financial issues, or a break down in an everyday process. It can also be external, such as dealing with troubled clients or a public relations issue.
While many avoid conflict resolution (and probably do anything to avoid conflicts), I have found that conflicts or crises can be great opportunities for growth both for you and your business. It's a good practice to always refine your leadership skills and see where you have opportunities to improve. I have also found that when these situations arise, you begin to identify team members who excel in this area, and perhaps most important, highlight weak areas of your business that need attention and innovation.
No matter its size or magnitude, you should approach each crisis with the appropriate due diligence, so you don't act too fast. Know the facts before jumping to conclusions. Here are seven steps you should take when confronted with a crisis.
1. Communicate with confidence.
Handling a crisis properly involves communicating with the people involved or who may be affected. If customers are impacted, it's best to let them know that you're aware of the issue, are working to fix it, and will get back to them with an update within a set time period.
You can post a message on your website, social media, or via an email blast. You could also have a customer service representative share your message when customers call. This way the issue doesn't become a greater customer relations nightmare because you don't appear transparent. If your team is involved, establishing good and regular communication helps to instill confidence and foster greater teamwork during the crisis.
2. Don't play the blame game.
A crisis is not the time to start pointing fingers or jumping to conclusions. Not only does it show a lack of professionalism and poor leadership, it wastes time and energy that should be used to tackle the crisis.
You can address the issue of why the crisis occurred at a later time, which may not be what you think at its outset. Right now, you need to be in the moment and focused on one thing: fixing the problem before it creates a greater issue in your business. When you catch people starting to blame others, quickly nip it in the bud so they know you won't tolerate gossip.
3. Don't act in haste.
While you want to resolve the crisis quickly, acting in haste and cutting corners may make the situation worse. You want to react, but not overreact. Breathe, take a step back, and approach the situation with a clear and focused mind. Sometimes, it may take a little longer, but it's better to have been more thorough.
4. Gather the facts.
Conduct a 360-degree assessment of the situation. You need to know the facts, the people involved, and what may be causing the crisis. Only when you understand the full details of the situation can you begin to address the problem.
For example, I've had suspicions before about staff soliciting customers for services outside of my business. I have found that it is important to not guess or ignore information that may not appear relevant. Before accusing someone, it's important to have the data that you can refer to that keeps the conversation to the facts so it does not become personal.
5. Set up a response team.
You can't be a one-person crisis resolution operation, and you don't want a crisis to consume the attention and energy of your entire business. I always designate a point person on the team for my business and clients to contact with questions and updates. Additionally, we go over what to say (and what not to say), so we don't create a bigger issue.
6. Develop a plan with clear objectives.
No matter what strategy you develop for your crisis, make sure it includes detailed steps with clear objectives. The plan's ultimate goal is to solve the problem, but it can't go from A (the problem) straight to Z (the solution). It should include specific actions with step-by-step instructions and highlight how they will be executed, who will take care of which action item, and by what timeframe.
7. Note the underlying problem for later.
It's too easy in a crisis to just treat the surface symptom, and not look at the underlying issue. But so often a crisis is a sign of a deeper problem. Use the current crisis situation as an opportunity to introduce positive change. After the crisis has been resolved, invite the appropriate people to discuss the situation and correct what may have triggered the crisis so it doesn't happen again. Typically this ends up being new policies or clearing up weaknesses in the operations you didn't know existed.
Every business has its moments of crisis. Big or small, short term or long term, internal or external, a crisis can have a widespread impact. Learning how to navigate a crisis when it arises not only can help you develop into a stronger leader, but help identify key areas where your business needs to improve, and provide more security for the people who work for you while reassuring your customers that you are a sound business.