Take Advantage of Crises to Grow and Learn

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    Crisis management continues after the problems are over

    It seems counter-intuitive to some, but crises can present amazing opportunities to grow and learn. In a post on his Harvard Business Review blog, expert business consultant Ron Ashkenas explains the shift that occurs during crises, and gives some excellent advice on how to stretch it as far as possible:

    People jump to respond to floods and snowstorms, urgent customer problems, financial challenges, or competitive moves. Levels of collaboration and creativity rise; a sense of urgency pervades the workplace; and everyone pitches in to resolve the problem or achieve the goal. But when the crisis passes, things revert to normal. The crisis becomes a part of the company’s folklore rather than a step towards lasting performance.

    …You can capture the spirit and energy of a crisis and use it not only to achieve the immediate goal, but also to build new patterns of achievement over time. If you and your team have recently experienced a surge of performance due to a crisis, special deadline, or extraordinary challenge, consider taking the following steps:

    1) Organize a post-crisis learning clinic. Include the key people w ho were involved — from your team, other parts of your organization, and even outside parties. Take stock of what you learned: What was done differently? What new patterns or innovations were sparked by the crisis? And most importantly, what new ways of working — individually or collectively — should be continued?

    2) Identify a critical initiative that you want to accelerate. Carve out a stretch goal that will demonstrate progress in 100 days or less — and then consciously apply one or more of the new patterns to it. Use the next 100 days as a real-time experiment to build the new innovations into your team’s muscle memory, while also generating additional learning from the 100-day challenge.

    Every time you face a challenge it is an opportunity to improve, but the vast majority of organizations are sorely lacking in this type of thinking. By taking the steps that Ashkenas recommends, you can take advantage of of the energy and creativity that is born during a crisis to strengthen yourself against the next.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. , an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training.]