Does crisis present opportunity?
Like a tornado, a crisis gathers speed and scale. A crisis brings to the surface, what has been ignored. It also creates the opportunity and sense of urgency for changes that previously felt too radical.
When a crisis hits, the first instinct for leaders is survival; understandably there is a focus on short term damage control. But what if organisations in the grip of crisis also considered the longer term? What if they thought about how they might benefit, rather than simply fire-fighting in the ‘here and now’? In their book James & Wooten argue this is the difference between crisis management and crisis leadership.
A crisis disrupts the status quo, and so represents an opportunity to talk about what the organisation does and how it does it. This means using a learning approach to truly understand the root causes of the crisis, drawn in external expertise, seeking the views of multiple stakeholders - including staff - and thinking longer term.
Waitakere maternity services in New Zealand describe their transformational approach to a sad and alarming crisis when a women caught fire during a caesarean birth! Their crisis leadership during this event overturned the ‘normal way’ of doing things in healthcare at the time. They were able to retain the women’s confidence in the hospital (her sister had her baby there too – by choice). And the attitude and confidence of clinicians was transformed– they are normally hung out to dry in such cases
In the glare of the spotlight, it is comforting for senior leaders to focus on getting a lid back on the crisis so they can get back to “business as normal”. I would invite organisations to ask a simple question: ‘If we were honest with ourselves, what is this crisis really telling us?