Monday, February 16, 2009

Never Let A Good Crisis Go to Waste

Leaders who help their organization navigate difficult times know how to turn the difficulty to their advantage. Often times they will create a crisis for the purpose of providing a sense of urgency. Why? Because they understand this: Crisis provides the opportunity to attempt things you would not otherwise be able to attempt. It allows you to speed the transformation process by making large shifts instead of small incremental ones. While solving the crisis you can leverage the effort to include non-crisis elements that may be levers themselves on the crisis or simply “targets of opportunity” that make sense. Without going overboard to the point you dilute the crisis remediation effort, it is possible to accomplish much more than solving just the immediate problem at hand.

A strong sense of urgency, in fact, usually demands bold action. Bold action, in turn, will reduce complacency and increase conflict. Both are natural reactions to a “non-normal” state and both represent further opportunity.

Getting rid of complacency is always a good thing, especially in times of crisis. It is obvious to everyone that “business as usual” won’t get the job done. People are forced out of their normal patterns and become receptive to new ideas. The energy level goes up, thoughts that would never have been spoken become viable options, and everyone’s attention is focused on a common goal.

In this climate tensions will run high and you can expect the level of conflict to increase. If you have good people on your team, people who care and who are invested in success then you should expect them to be at odds at times. Here’s the good side of conflict – it provides the opportunity for frank, honest, and respectful dialog. Conflict is an opportunity. It gives you the chance to treat people with respect and demand the same of them, to be truthful but not hurtful, and to deepen relationship bonds that cause people to commit to others because they trust them. Conflict can be a very good thing when viewed this way. Rush to resolve it too quickly and you lose the chance to use it to advance transformation and organizational trust.

Where I work we have a lot of very smart people. They are all highly educated, open academic debate is part of our culture. Shying away from it is the last thing you want to do. Here’s the interesting part and a key to understanding why conflict can be a good thing. People may disagree with the conclusions you come to and they will test you severely. They will probe, sometimes in not so gentle manner, to test your assumptions, your thought process, the evidence, and the integrity of your research and proposal. In other words, open academic debate, often times very passionate. In the end, however, they will back you completely even if they do not agree with all of your conclusions – as long as they trust your integrity, the integrity of your information, and the integrity of your process. Is that a conflict-free environment? Certainly not. Is it one that engenders open discussion, frank and respectful exchanges, and trust and support? Absolutely.

Good leaders are not afraid to create or take advantage of crisis situations because they have confidence that they can help individuals and the team channel their thoughts, energy, and efforts in a common drive to achieve important goals.

Do you have a crisis at hand? Thank your lucky stars! Then decide how you are going to use it to your advantage and get to it. Because you know, a good crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

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