By Bill Yeargin
The past 100 years has seen one crisis after another; WWI, the Spanish Flu, the stock market crash, the Great Depression, WWII, Korean War, flu’s of the 50’s and 60’s, Vietnam War, Oil Embargo, inflation, sky high interest rates, the ‘87 stock market crash, the Gulf War, 9/11, the Great Recession and now COVID-19. You’d think we would recognize that crisis is a regular occurrence; but, we don’t.
Despite a clear track record of crisis on a consistent basis, we often get captured by the thought that when things are good, they will stay that way.
Last year I read a book, called “This Time It’s Different,” that did a good job of explaining how we get captured by thinking our current situation is different than similar situations in the past and ignore lessons we should have learned.
As Mark Twain is reputed to have said, “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
Since it is difficult to project what the next crisis might be or when it will occur, some of the best things we can do are:
• Expect that there will be a crisis even (maybe, especially) when you don’t see it coming and remain flexible.
• Create a crisis business model that is flexible and can be adjusted quickly if needed. I am wired to be an optimist, so this is not negative, it is smart.
• Have a downturn plan ready. While you cannot predict the crisis, you can have a plan for how you will function when a crisis happens. This is not necessarily a detailed plan, but a model that helps you adjust your business for the unpleasant surprises that are inevitable. This needs to be a workable model with targets that are achievable.
• Once the crisis starts, assume a “fighter pilot” mentality. My CIA agent friend Michele tells me that CIA agents are taught that they have three options in a crisis (fight, flight, or freeze). She says the CIA teaches them the importance of “getting off the spot;” which means that of the three options, the worst choice is to freeze.
• Use the crisis as an opportunity to “reset.” I have been repeating this with our team over and over since COVID-19 began. As much as we don’t want to deal with this pandemic, it is a rare opportunity to make substantive change. No one wants a crisis, but teams need to see them as an opportunity.
Forming your team’s thinking is more important than giving them a to-do list. Get your team to take on a fighter pilot mentality and embrace crisis as an opportunity; they will take care of the details.
The last couple of months we have all had a crash course in crisis management, and, this particular crisis has been one with no playbook. We have all been writing the pandemic playbook on the fly. But despite the uniqueness of a global pandemic, the crisis principles are still the same; there are things we can do to prepare and respond well when the unexpected happens.