Building Your Crisis Management Culture

By: Scott Dannemiller, Chief Learning Officer, Executive Development Associates, Inc.

If the recent string of cruise ship problems has you changing your vacation plans, you’re not alone. Over the past few years, cruise ships have experienced trouble at sea ranging from power outages to steering problems, not to mention the string of Norovirus outbreaks. The long-term impact on the entire industry’s business depends largely on their collective response to these crises.

It’s situations like this that have business leaders wondering how their company would respond in a crisis.  In looking at your own enterprise, it’s important to recognize that managing people and processes in a crisis is basically the same as managing them under normal circumstances.  However, what’s distinctive in a crisis situation is the urgency, focus and potential negative consequences that highlight the inadequacies that were already present in the management of people and processes.  The way to address the problem in crisis is to first establish solid problem-solving practices and a common language for non-crisis situations – and this may require changing the culture of the organization.

In working with many large organizations over the years we have found that there were a number of distinctive traits for those organizations that were successful in changing their problem-solving culture.  The following were the key distinctions in those organizations that impacted their critical thinking culture.  I believe that these unique traits would be relevant for any culture shift:

  • Understand why the shift is vital and communicate: They identified and clearly articulated the reason for the culture shift.  They identified what would happen if no shift occurred.  They identified the expected result and benefit when the shift did occur.  And, of course, they clearly addressed the “what’s-in-it-for-me” for each audience.
  • Overall Management commitment: Key organizational management understood and could articulate the reason for the shift.  Management was “on-board” with the need for the change and the process that was being used to achieve the shift.
  • Key stakeholders and drivers: Often there was a person or small group that was passionate about the need for the culture shift had the ability to adjust priorities (including financial) to bring about the needed changes.
  • Consistent message and support: Messages were clearly communicated and communicated frequently.  The messages also had to be supported in the actions of management.  Expectations for change were consistently coached and encouraged.  They understood that the current culture took a long time to develop and it would take time to change the culture.
  • Common language and processes: Through training and other communication, they established a common language and set of processes for addressing problems.  The common language was reinforced through statements, personal actions and coaching of individuals at every opportunity.
  • Effective interdepartmental communication: Departments interacted well with one another and used the common language and processes that had been established.
  • Celebrate the “wins”: Organizations found it helpful to point to examples of success that gave people a visible example of achievement and benefit.  They would try to make a “big deal” about the success so that others were encouraged and motivated to accomplish the same.

In short, crisis management is all about culture management. Shifting the culture of your organization to one that is resilient in a crisis requires focused attention and effort.  In over thirty years of working with our clients, we’ve seen such a shift is indeed possible.

*Originally published by Action Management Associates, Inc.

About the Author:

Scott Dannemiller is Executive Development Associates’ Chief Learning Officer and developer of our acclaimed Critical Thinking Boot Camp. A highly skilled facilitator who consistently receives exceptional reviews for his engaging, high energy workshops, Scott is an expert at teaching practical skills using interactive learning methods to help individuals improve their critical thinking, problem solving, and decision-making skills.