Crisis Management and understanding potential crises
Photo Credit: here
Whenever I tell people that I deal in crisis management, their response is, “What type of crisis?”  I can answer with descriptions of personnel, management or even moral crises that I’ve dealt with, but almost every crisis that I have dealt with over the past 30+ years has been either a frog or a Godzilla.
Let me explain.
The Godzillas were the bolt out of the blue – no warning, no preparations – a total shock.  This type of crisis requires coolness of thought to stop, think before reacting and develop a rational plan of action quickly.  It also requires someone who knows what resources are available and can be called upon to assist in the response to the immediate crisis (Godzilla is stomping on your city NOW) and the longer term recovery effort (rebuilding Toyko). Click here, here, and here to read more about Godzillas and crises.
The frogs could have been prevented early with the proper attention to doing things right and getting the work done on schedule. But slips were made early and allowed to steamroll before upper management realized they had a crisis.  This type of crisis requires real hands-on effort to determining the scope of the problem, the fundamental cause, correcting it and cleaning up the mess.
We call them frogs because they seem harmless, but end up being catastrophic – just like real frogs. Hawaii has a huge infestation problem with the coqui frog, an import from Puerto Rico, which you can read about here. They’re taking over entire subdivisions, decimating property values, and causing health problems. Scott Williamson, an invasive species biologist with the Hawaii state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said “A few biologists said this is going to be a problem because they have the potential to breed anywhere almost in Hawaii. … But nobody really paid any attention. Nobody thought a frog could be a problem.”
Crisis managers know that every potential crisis can be categorized by how likely it is to happen and how much it’s going to hurt. Technically, we call that “probability of occurrence” and “magnitude of impact.”  Here’s how you can start understanding potential crises and your business. The graphic shows nine categories of crisis using a scale of low, medium and high for both probability and impact.
Me2 Crisis categories - probability and impact
Crisis Matrix.
Photo credit: Hutchison Solutions
Let’s examine each case starting from the top left:
1. (Probability – High, Impact – Low) Beautiful weather and nothing is really wrong with the world – Enjoy!
2. (Probability – High, Impact – Medium) These events require a little preparation beforehand (buy a snow shovel) but they occur often enough that we know what to expect and what to do.
3. (Probability – High, Impact – High)These events simply must be endured with the understanding that a lot of work will be required in their aftermath but we know what to expect and what to do.
4. (Probability – Medium, Impact – Low) These events occur on a frequent basis but we have learned to adapt to them and still carry on with our lives.
5. (Probability – Medium, Impact – Medium) These are the frogs – events that we know may occur and we understand the consequences, but we are lulled into a sense that they won’t happen to us, today, here.  These are the events that hindsight is 20/20 and everyone wonders why no one did anything about it before it became a crisis!
6. (Probability – Medium, Impact – High) These events are like tornados in Oklahoma – they are likely to occur somewhere every year and when they do they will hurt, but maybe not here now.  We know what to expect and what to do, but without proper preparation it may not be enough.
7. (Probability – Low, Impact – Low) Like ants invading your house, these events are nuisances but we know what to do and can remedy the situation quickly and easily (a can of Raid, anyone?)
8. (Probability – Low, Impact – Medium) These events don’t occur very often if at all but when they do they significantly disrupt our lives.  We also have enough personal or societal experience to know how to mitigate the consequences or minimize the risks (Don’t drink and drive!)
9. (Probability – Low, Impact – High) These are the Godzillas – we can’t imagine that they will happen in the first place but when they do, the result is a catastrophe.  They are complete surprises – Mt. St. Helens exploding, terrorists flying planes into buildings, your CEO embezzling funds from the company, etc.  They are likely to affect a lot of people drastically (think Enron).
Me2 - Crisis Management Matrix - Kinds of Crises
Your 10 Minute Crisis Action Plan:
  •  Draw a 3×3 matrix
  • Spend 5 minutes writing down all the crises that you can imagine hitting your business or organization. Then, put them in the matrix based on how likely they are to happen and how much they’d hurt if they did.
  •   Send your your matrix to three people – one in your business, one that is a customer, and one outsider.  You could email it as a spreadsheet, or just snap a picture with your phone and send it out. Just share it an get their feedback. Then, add their comments.

 

Frank Hutchison crisis management expert signature

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.