Agile & Digital

Why is it easier to get things done in a crisis?

Most of us have had the experience of an internal crisis or a customer issue that was so important that we are able to just cut through the normal complexities of work and get things done exceptionally quickly.

Why is this so much easier than getting things done the everyday away?

I suspect there are two main factors

1. Goal clarity and urgency

If something is important enough to be considered a crisis we normally have a very clear goal – to solve a problem that is usually visible to senior managers. The fact that it’s a crisis transcends and supersedes normal considerations such as competing functional goals and agendas.

When I was a manufacturing plant director and we had a component supply problem that stopped us supplying the market, suddenly I had more resources and attention than I knew what to do with. Senior leaders who had never visited my factory were suddenly attending my morning meetings. In fact, I could have done with less “support”. It was clear to everyone on the organization what the priority was.

Perhaps the learning here is to create crystal clarity and a sense of urgency about the goal that reaches out to the customer or to a specific deliverable that cuts across our traditional silos.

2. Normal rules get suspended.

Many other you will be familiar with the great innovation stories around “skunk works” where individual teams are protected from the corporate culture and the normal way of working of the organization, often located in a separate building, and they then go on to achieve great feats of innovation and creativity.

The obvious question here is, what is it about your existing processes and corporate culture that normally prevent innovation. Isn’t this what we should be fixing?

It’s the same with a crisis, if we can deliver so fast in a  crisis, what stops us doing this with “business as usual”?

Are we creating our own crises deliberately?

Now if crises happen regularly in your business, it can be a sign that your everyday processes are unnecessarily slow and bureaucratic and the only way to get things done is to declare (or create) a crisis.

In fact, I know of a couple of businesses that love a crisis. Firstly, it’s the best way to get anything done and secondly, it’s what gets rewarded in terms of career development and visibility.

In these organizations it seems to be far better for your career to have a crisis and solve it in a high profile way than it is not to have the crisis in the first place.

If you recognize this, and it’s not uncommon, be careful what you recognize and reward. You may be creating the crises that seem to be such a problem.

Think back on recent crises, what can you learn that would help you improve your everyday way of working and processes? We don’t need to wait for a crisis to get better at delivering results

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