Rob Ford - Toronto Mayor

The First Rule Of Crisis Management- Use It Every Day To Succeed!

18 months ago a tumor was found on my vocal chords. I walked from the specialist’s surgery straight to my office and for the next four hours devoted myself to the first rule of crisis management. It’s a rule that helped me then, and helps me every day- in business and in life. Do you do it?

Imagine you were advising the Mayor of Toronto. An allegation of substance abuse is made. All hell breaks loose. What do you do next?

Rob Ford - Toronto MayorRemember what actually happened next? First, the video of him taking crack cocaine appeared- with an online auction grabbing headlines as to who would buy the tape. Evidence of public drunkenness emerged. Then prostitutes. Drink driving. More illegal drugs. I mean- oi fricken vey!

So if you were advising this lad, again, the first rule of crisis management is an absolute MUST. Here is it.

Always plan for the worst case- for more bad news.

You see- in crisis management, experience suggests the crisis WILL get worse. A great crisis team immediately splits, with some addressing the crisis, others immediately scenario planning what could go wrong next and how to respond should that occur. By anticipating escalation of the problem, you are ready to tackle it- quickly, efficiently, calmly- minimizing damage. And- having those worst case scenario plans in place gives you the confidence to get on with the immediate priorities with optimism and clarity.

Here’s the point. Think about your worlds.

In business, you’re about the have a tough conversation with a client on pricing and fear being fired; to give strong feedback to a leader who is out of line, and fear a resignation; to promote one individual ahead of another, with the latter key to a major client and might quit in a huff; to challenge a superior on a decision, and fear her reaction; to remove someone from a team and fear a ‘revolt’ from his team buddies. And in life, about to challenge a boyfriend on his behavior; to tell a friend a home truth they won’t like and might resent deeply; you’re short of money and are approaching the bank for a loan; you’re seriously unwell and are awaiting critical test results…

Whenever you are about to embark on an action or path where you fear a significant repercussion, remember the first rule of crisis management:

Plan for the worst case. Here’s what to do.

1. Sit quietly with the potential worst case scenarios. Okay- the client fired us; I got fired: that leader has quit and left the building immediately; as feared three on a team resigned in protest; my boyfriend dumped me; I have cancer and have a fight ahead. Whatever it is, think clearly about the probable worst case that could happen.

2. And quietly plan exactly what you would do if that was the case. Write down all the options.

3. Develop an action plan. Be very specific about what you would do, step by step, to handle that worst case should it actually happen.

4. Review the plan. Put it in your drawer.

5. Sigh deeply. Lift your shoulders. Fill your very being with confidence and optimism. And go forth and tackle the situation head on.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Simple. You open the drawer, get out your plan. And get cracking- not a second lost, and with the confidence that ‘it will be okay.’ You know it will be okay- you have a plan to make it okay.

On the other hand, as I did when that specialist rang me 18 months ago after the tumor biopsy to say: ”All clear- benign”, you open the drawer, and tear up the plan.

Whenever I feel the fear about ‘what if’s’, and am trying to build the courage to tackle an issue despite that fear, I pause, and develop a very clear action plan to tackle the worst case scenarios. For big things, and for smaller things. Give it a go. It works.

Rob Ford - Toronto Mayor

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5 Responses to The First Rule Of Crisis Management- Use It Every Day To Succeed!

  1. Charles Lankester March 12, 2014 at 12:00 am #

    Great post Chris. Two additional observations. First, it still amazes me how reluctant companies are to consider reputational risk as you mention. No-one ever seems to have a dollar to think about a problem, but everyone has a hundred dollars to fix it when visible. Second, social media has made a great deal of corporate crisis planning redundant. Unless a company is prepared to respond fast, socially, they will lose control fast. Social should now be at the centre of corporate risk management planning. Thanks again. Charles

    • Chris Savage March 12, 2014 at 10:26 am #

      Thanks Charles!

    • Luis Garcia March 12, 2014 at 11:20 am #

      Good post, Chris. Charles, agree with both your observations, although I think that regardless of whether the crisis plays out through social or conventional (mainstream? old fashioned?) media, the same fundamentals apply.

  2. Pod OSullivan March 13, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    Great post Chris. Amazing how often we bunker down when a crisis happens hoping it will go away instead of rising above it to plan for how bad it might get. The fire, police and rescue teams in Sydney did a great job yesterday of rising above a fire in Bangaroo and planned for worst case scenarios acting accordingly. Glad to hear the benign result too btw. Pod

    • Chris Savage March 14, 2014 at 9:00 am #

      Thanks Pod!

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