If you are a leader in a business, crisis happens. I've lived through them when I was at a leadership level in "Big Corporate America" as well as when I've been running my own small business for the last eight years.
Crisis takes on all forms and shapes from missing financial targets to regulatory compliance or product delays to customer challenges. Sometimes, your first response is one where you stop and think through possibilities objectively. Other times, you have a visceral human reaction and start to try to identify the culprit for how the crisis started. Sometimes you just react and panic.
One of the most common crisis situations almost all of us have found ourselves in is related to people. In particular, the crisis starts when critical people leave.
In many cases, our first reaction when this happens is to react and panic. We've got to figure out how to get someone into that role as quickly as possible so that we don't lose any business continuity. In other words, "we've got to fill that vacancy as fast as possible."
Whereas this approach makes logical sense on the surface, it may be a prime example of letting a perfectly good people crisis go to waste. Here's why.
The opportunity you never knew you wanted to think differently about your people and your structure
As counter-intuitive as it may sound, sometimes losing someone great to the market or a competitor might be the best thing that could have happened because it can force you to re-evaluate the talent you do have and how you have set up the roles in your organization.
The best advice I ever got about this came from a now retired CEO from a health care company. Here's what he told me:
"Without the crisis, most of us continue with business as usual. We keep doing the work as we have done it with the people who have always done it. The crisis itself can become the event that allows you to change your thinking on what work needs to be done, how it should get done, and who should do it simply out of newly perceived talent scarcity."
In other words, as tempting as it might be to just go out and fill that position, don't do it. Stop and think differently.
When I've lost key talent, despite my desire to move quickly and solve that problem, I have often gone "big picture" in my thinking. Instead of focusing on that role and that person, I've thought about my entire structure, the roles that are being optimized as well as those that aren't.
I have even used it as a catalyst to make me think about whether there is work that's happening that shouldn't or work that needs to happen that isn't.
If used well, the people scarcity crisis is an unexpected opportunity to reflect on ways to give other people in your organization development opportunities that might not have been possible when the critical person was in the critical role they were in before they left.
In a perfect world, some experts would say that you should always be thinking this way and not waiting for a people crisis to force it. But since the world isn't perfect and neither are most of us, at least you can take advantage of a good people crisis in a strategic way.