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Introspection after Handling a Crisis
                                                                                            - Bibhu Mishra

In spite of all the systems and preparations, risks are never completely eliminated. Our worst nightmares become real. Catastrophes happen. Recently, I had to lead my team through one such ordeal. My thirty years of experience in the industry was a great help. We managed the situation and came out with minimum damage. We have introspected about the sequence of events. The learning from this unique experience enriched me as well as my team members. I am sharing them with you, hoping that these insights will be useful to you in case of any emergency situation.
 
 
 

 Introspection

Self-talk for survival

A crisis can overwhelm you. It tests the team and its leader.  In certain moments, I felt that the crisis was beyond the capabilities of entire team members; it made me doubt the capability of my team. Next moment, I tried to act tough, work more, cheer up the team more. As the crisis is now over, I wonder, “Am I the one who led the team? Is this the team who did all those wonderful things?” In the situation of crisis, not only does the leader’s performance increase many folds but each team member contributes significantly more than his or her normal capacity. The hormones definitely help. The key to self-talking for survival is to believe that it is possible to surmount the difficulties. You must act to make your team believe in your self-talk.

 

Synergize

Human behaviour in such periods is unique. We are programmed to work with unity, so have strong faith in your team. The persons who used to work against each other in the normal situation will manage to work together- just command them to do so and see the human magic happening. It was during this crisis that I realised how synergy can catapult the effort of small human beings to achieve giant results. The clear instructions for action makes the team members believe in their capability. They accept that there are no perfect actions. This acceptance is a key in building and maintaining synergy.

 

Communicate:

Top leaders often express that effective communication is their most difficult task. In a crisis situation, communication breakdown can frustrate you. You need to work overtime to make sure that communication is effective. Use all methods- even if you write on the palm of a person so that he/she does not forget your instructions, it is fine. Cross checking by asking your teammates, ‘Can you tell me what you are going to do?’ is a must. Misunderstanding can waste both time and scarce resources. The feedback cycle, making sure that instructions are really happening, is important. Just because you have passed an instruction and it has been understood, does not mean that the task you have assigned will automatically complete itself. Check and recheck. Do this as often as is possible. Communication systems, like a public address system or walkie-talkies, make communication very effective.  If one team member is in need of help, using such a system, he/she can communicate the problem to others, and the best person can come forward to help them. Having systems like this in place can be very beneficial, because it gives every team member the opportunity to communicate with many members of the team. Such events synergize the team and assure them that they are not alone.

 

Execute::

Effective execution of instructions in a crisis situation gives the desired result. All resources and manpower are to be utilised optimally. Assume that your present plan or action is not going to yield the desired result and train yourself to keep thinking of alternative solutions throughout the crisis. This makes sure that various resources are not idled and more execution of the right type happens. The number of actions per hour leading towards the desired outcome is a key statistic that decides the outcome. Remember that your team members are excited and can do more than what they used to do in ordinary times. So do not shy away and ask for average tasks. Believe in your people and ask them to execute extraordinary things. You will be pleasantly surprised when they rise to the occasion.

 

Innovation::

Standard operating procedures may not work or may not be adequate in an emergency situation. Innovation on the run is essential. A culture, in which people have the habit of offering suggestions and new ideas, is likely to have more success. Systems, in which stringent control is the norm, may not give desired results. When team members know that they have adequate freedom in trying various methods, the chances of success is better. In a crisis that I faced recently, we had about 100 innovative “out of box” ideas in a month. These were accepted and implemented. Some were extraordinary, some did not yield desired results and some were outright failures. The key is to accept ideas and work on the good ones. Under time and resource constraint, execute the suggestions in pilot form and improve upon them later.

 

I have tried here to summarize my own experience, trying to find out how the leader, the system and the environment work towards the desired outcome. I hope that this would be useful to you too.