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

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

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
, 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.