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Crisis Management

image credit: © Jakub Jirsák | Dreamstime.com

This item is part of the Special Issue - 05/2020 - Customer Care, click here for more

Over the years I have managed several crises. My success depended on two actions. These actions were critical to success.

First, stay calm, analyze the situation, and decide what you can do now in the current state.

Second, analyze what you can do in the future now’s, the future current states. I mean in the next minute, hour, today, and tomorrow. Understand that as the current now moves forward during a crisis the situation will change. Future now's may change your actions, so you must remain flexible.

You are always dealing in the current state while moving toward a future current state.

Here are some examples of what may be helpful for you.

My first crisis was simple. As the restaurant manager of the Stafford hotel, I closed the dining room from 2 pm to 4 pm each day. I kept our coffee shop open during this time. The coffee shop had few customers during this time; so, I would do paperwork in my room during this time.

We had a new waitress. I explained to her that she had made a good process, and I think you can gain more experience by working at the coffee shop during this slow time. That is what we did.

I am in my room. I get a desperate call from Ms. Walker,  my cashier. She said, “You better get down here. You have a problem.”

I got to the coffee shop, it was full of customers. A tour bus had stopped at our hotel. My new waitress was not there. I went into the kitchen, and she was crying. She said, “I can’t serve all those people.” I said, “Yes we can. Here is what we will do. I will start on the counter.  You start with a booth. We will serve one customer at a time. They will probably only want coffee and Pie. We will just focus on one customer at a time.” This is what we did. In the end, we served every customer. This is a simple crisis. But the method still stands. What can we do now? Stay calm and focus on now.

Over the years, I handled more complicated situations. I saw firsthand that a major crisis can get beyond your resources. This means you have to gather the help you need from other areas. Communication channels are most important for these resources to come to your aid.

As an electric utility Business Office Manager, my charge is to keep the power on for our customers. At 4 pm on Good Friday 1985, I stood in the West Blocton office looking west. There was a black cloud coming toward the office.  I was new to this situation, being the new manager. I was a District Accounting Manager before this position. I saw what the Operation Department did during a snowstorm in February. Now, I would have to perform this alone.

What should I do now? I knew the trouble tickets would start printing. I called my lineman to the office. We sat in my office and waited for the trouble tickets.
The calm before the storm.  The tickets printed, and we determined what areas to check first. They knew the distribution line system. We made decisions on what sections to check first. I needed to know this critical information.

I knew I needed the help of the office lineman. This was key, I stayed calm and sought help. I sent my office lineman to trouble areas. They got the line energized, or let me know what was needed to get the line energized. The lineman found trees down on lines and poles down.  I phoned the District office and let them know we needed tree crews and Crew help. I then dispatched the tree crews and line crews. We worked all night. I got home at 10 pm on Saturday.

Now the biggest crisis of my career, April 27, 2011, the Tuscaloosa Tornado. I was the Dispatch Supervisor in the  Western Division Control Center.  I scheduled the dispatchers and helped them perform their job. I was the coordinator with the transmission control center in Birmingham. I was assigned these roles before this storm. We watched the tornado on our tv monitors. Each member of our team knew their roles. We were calm, trained, and ready. We performed our jobs before on other
storms, but his Tornado was devastation. We worked 16 hours a day for eight days.


We used communication in a big way. Our division leaders came to the storm room prepared for this purpose. Their goal was to analyze and forecast our needs. These needs were tremendous. We had to have outside help from our company and our sister companies. We used contract crews, tree crews, and community agencies. These were the resources we needed to get the power on for our customers.

Each member of our team knew their role. We were calm. We knew it would take us days to restore our customers' power. We had never experienced a storm like this.


In the end, there were over three thousand customers we could not serve; their buildings were gone.

The key to managing a crisis is to stay calm; you know the crisis is only temporary. You do what you can do now. Your team members have roles to accomplish: how can you help them? How can you get the outside help you need? You operate in the current state while you prepare for a future state.

You are critical to setting the example.  Be like the duck, calm on top, paddling like hell below.

Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 26, 2020

With the current pandemic on people's minds, is there any unique advice you would give on how to handle a crisis that's much extended beyond the 'normal' crisis that might come up in be dealt with in a few weeks or so?

Jim McGriff's picture
Jim McGriff on May 27, 2020

We are getting information that changes from day to day. The situation is still in flux. What we know for sure is that we have to protect ourselves and our family, especially our elderly. This means that we should maintain social distance and wear a mask, wash our hands.

 Also, i am ordering groceries from a delivery service. I keep the products out of my house for a day or two. We wash all refrigrated foods before we place then in the frig. We keep our mail out of our house for a few days. 

I am 73, so my wife and I go above what might be required.  We all have different situations, we have to protect ourselves.

Try to keep up with all that the knowledge people tell us... I hesitate to call them experts. Remember, they are experts only in their field and not experts in other fields. This means the the people that tell us to shut down are only thinking about control of the diesase, not our economic health. Each is important, we have to have a balance. 

Good luck... 

Jim McGriff's picture

Thank Jim for the Post!

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