Thursday, July 20, 2017

How to Rapidly Resolve Crises in Your Business


Guest post from Nat Greene:

You can probably remember a dozen times just like this: you’re at the head of a conference table with a haggard, tired team sitting about you. They’re anxious, but eager to take action. You’ve assembled them because a new crisis has arisen in the business: it might be a risk to your best customer, a production shutdown, or a new product release gone terribly awry.

All eyes are locked on you to lead them. What’s your first step?

In my experience, most leaders in this situation begin soliciting ideas from their team on how to resolve the crisis. This is certainly a better step than many take, which is to try to play the hero and dictate what ideas will be implemented. And it’s a very natural reaction: in the middle of a crisis, most people want action, and they want it now. Every minute spent sitting around talking is another minute that the crisis continues and the fortunes of the business decline. And nobody wants a long, drawn-out meeting where no action comes forth.

But this approach of soliciting ideas has a fatal flaw: all of these “ideas” are in fact guesses. You’ve assembled smart, experienced people in the room, and their experience can fool us into believing that one or more of their guesses is likely to be an effective solution to the crisis. And guessing can resolve some easy problems. However, truly difficult crises are caused by hard problems. Guesses, even by experienced people in the business, are unlikely to come up with the winning solution.

To solve the hard problem at the root of your crisis, you need to take a different approach. It involves a strategic sort of patience. You need to do the work to understand the root cause behind your crisis in order to solve it effectively. To find the root cause, you need to stop guessing and use a different set of behaviors.

Know what problem you’re solving. Most crisis response efforts attempt to solve the problem without having defined it well in the first place. Often, problem definitions contain assumptions about the cause of the problem, causing your team to work on the wrong problem altogether. “Our supplier is sending us low quality materials,” or “our core assets are too old” are both problem definitions that assume you already know what’s wrong. Take a step back and define the problem based on what you can observe directly.

Smell the problem. Your first step during the crisis shouldn’t be to try implementing a guessed solution; it should be quickly getting out of the conference room and getting close to the problem to understand it. Pull up data that describes the pattern of the problem, or go to the site of the problem and get familiar with it. If you have unhappy customers, listen in depth to what they’re saying. If you have a supply chain problem, go to the site and record in detail what’s going on.

Stay on target. As you explore the problem, seek to quickly eliminate possible culprits. Investigate it like Sherlock Holmes: instead of trying to confirm a hunch about a suspect, look for evidence that eliminates the possibility that a suspect is the criminal. When you have eliminated all suspects but one, you’ve found your culprit. This relentlessness to eliminate possible root causes will quickly move you towards the true root cause.

When you’ve found the root cause to your crisis, the most effective and efficient solution will become readily apparent. You’ll be able to implement it with greater speed, confidence, and consensus than if you were trying out the best idea that bubbled up in your conference room. To rapidly resolve the crisis in your business, focus your resources on understanding the problem, rather than wasting them trying out guesses that may or may not work.

Learn what skills your team brings to the table in crisis resolution with our free online quiz.

Nathaniel Greene is the co-founder and current CEO of Stroud International, and author of Stop Guessing:The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem-Solvers. Nat has a Masters of Engineering from Oxford University and studied design, manufacturing and management at Cambridge University, in addition to executive education coursework in Harvard Business School's Owner/President Management program.

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