It's never fun to have something unexpected bomb-in on your plans, but it happens to everyone--and more frequently than anyone wants. How you deal with a crisis is what matters. Will you let it utterly derail you and your business, or will it make you stronger and better?
My advice: Overreact instead of under react.
Here are nine ways to make sure all your bases are covered when a crisis hits:
1. There's no time to waste.
Problems don't get better with age. Too often, people choose to hide problems or let them sit, rather than addressing them when they're smaller.
Remember the issue with the Tylenol cap? Or Intel's Pentium chip? Think about how differently Tesla responded to a seatbelt malfunction. It recalled every car and managed the problem proactively. As Meg Whitman used to say to me when I was at eBay, "Run into the fire!"
2. Deploy your resources.
The first thing to do is to sound the alarm to get attention and action. At eBay we developed codes (Severity 1, Severity 2, etc.), which helped us identify the scale of the problem and the response time.
A "Sev 1" would be dealt with immediately, while a "Sev 4" could be handled over the coming days. We also incorporated terminology like "911s," which meant that every resource in the company could be pulled off of whatever they were doing to work on the current issue.
You'll be amazed at what people can accomplish when they come together to address a crisis. But a word of caution: use emergency status judiciously. It may be tempting to escalate future crises to "911" to get a faster response time, but don't. It will burn your team out fast.
3. Get the right people in place.
Talent is everything. When you are in crisis mode, you quickly get to see people at their best and at their worst. Make sure you have the best surgeons, firefighters and problem solvers on board and if you don't, get them there quickly.
4. Have a backup plan. And a backup for the backup.
When a problem hits, you don't always know what's wrong, and you certainly don't always know how to fix it. I was always a fan of working on several possible solutions simultaneously, just in case we were wrong in our hypothesis.
Furthermore, always look two to four moves ahead so you have options. Keep asking yourself, "And if that doesn't work, then what?"
5. Swallow your pride.
The best answers can come from anywhere. Allow everyone to have a voice and contribute insights and questions.
6. Do everything possible to minimize impact for customers.
I reference eBay a lot, probably because it was crisis central. When I started, we used drives from a big vendor and when they crashed, our entire site crashed.
The vendor told me that we were trying to recover "too fast" and if we just let them recycle for 20 minutes, everything would be fine. Who has 20 minutes on the Internet?
We needed a proactive interim strategy. For 24-hours a day, we kept people watching for the warning that would flash before a crash. It was a high-intensity solution that required a lot of resources, but until it was automated with a bug-free software fix, we had to do everything within our power to reduce how customers were affected.
7. Communicate with everyone (the board, your team, customers).
Have your board and your management on high alert and make sure they're present until permanent solutions are in place.
Remember, you're not just solving for the problem with your team in a silo; customers are involved. Someone has to notify them and calm them down. Here's how to take action:
- Tell the truth
- Tell them the next steps
- Tell them when you will update them again
You'll need to have a process in place to communicate. Who's managing communications to employees, to customers, to the press?
8. Postmortems are essential.
Never waste a crisis. Once the problem is solved, figuring out what went wrong (was it an execution issue, a vendor or product issue, a software bug, an external event, etc.?), and how to ensure it won't return, is essential.
Remember, great companies have to be world class at dealing with crises, but they aspire to be even better at avoiding crises in the first place.
9. From now on, plan for crises in advance.
Ideally, you want to be deploying a playbook rather than developing a playbook. Most often, this isn't done in advance and then have to develop processes while in battle, which is much harder.
You will have peaceful moments again. Enjoy those for a moment and then use time to invest in making your business better.