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How to manage a crisis into opportunity
15 July 2013 Posted by 

How to manage a crisis into opportunity

By Matt Gosling

EVERYONE is faced with a crisis from time to time. This article explores what normally happens, and then gives you five tips on how to step through a crisis effectively.

Typically crises follow a pattern: crises more often than not start out in denial, with people experiencing that ‘this can’t really be happening’ and “things like this don’t happen to us”.

Secondly, containment attitude kicks in and people try to make it disappear by allocating or attributing it to someone else. Blaming the culture ensues and responsibility is avoided.

Intervention of authorities with an investigation and termination of a key individual often follow this. Lastly in the final stage, the crisis is fixed or fixes itself, and life continues as usual.

How you handle a crisis can result in a favourable result for your personal and corporate brand.

In 1997, Arnott's Biscuits was subject to an extortion bid threatening to poison packets of their biscuits in South Australia and Victoria.

The company conducted a massive recall and publicity campaign, publishing the extortionist's threats and demands in full-page advertisements.

The recall cost the company A$22 million, but Arnott's was praised for its openness and honesty in dealing with the crisis.

So should you have a crisis, how can you manage your way through it, even enjoy it, and grow from the experience?

Don’t panic!

Take a breath or 10, and decide to look at this as a growth opportunity and a chance to test yourself to become a stronger individual as you now go into service for others.

Consider that this is not a crisis, it is an opportunity to lead, to be recognised as a leader, and to make your mark.

It is also true that this moment will pass. Your business has survived until this point through previous crises, and so has your life. This is just another speed bump, but one from which you can grow.

Lastly, many more people look up to you than you might imagine: this is a chance to inspire them and let them see what they might become. Be the change they seek. Your steadiness will guarantee the respect and support of others.

Slow down and define the problem.

Often the real problem is a little deeper than it first appears. Take your time to write down the description of the problem very clearly. This also will remove you from it emotionally.

The better you describe it, the shorter it becomes, the more manageable it feels, and the easier it will be to develop a solution.

Work out who has been affected, to what extent and evaluate how it could get worse or better: this quantifies the problem.

In crises we have seen, affected parties included directors, shareholders, customers, management, staff and suppliers.

Create a stakeholder list, and itemise how each have been affected. Then in the next column, identify the result you think that will restore balance.

Take Responsibility.

Make sure you don’t allow your staff to feel guilty in the process: mistakes are healthy so long as they are learned from and actions taken to improve from the experience.

Michael Jordan is famous for his quote demonstrating his persistence and desire to learn from his mistakes:

“I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Embrace mistakes: they are the fastest way to learn and improve your business.

Engage your team.

Collective minds are more resourceful than one and we have seen that by including your team you get a stronger problem definition and outcome that also reduces risk for the business.

It demonstrates that you are a collaborative leader, have respect for their contribution and choose to involve them in the future of the business.

Lastly an inclusive approach binds the team together and they will likely show more unity both in supporting you, and copying your example to present a more collaborative culture to their own staff.

You set the culture and collaborative actions pull the company together.

Develop and execute steps to resolution with your team.

Draw up the action steps to deliver the stakeholder results you have identified with your team, and allocate them with due dates.

Make sure you take the tasks that require political sensitivity and have the greatest capacity for situational or reputational deterioration.

A good plan today is better than a brilliant one tomorrow so keep this short, action-orientated and monitor the timeline progress to outcome obsessively.

Your team should be clear and driven on what to do, as you have involved them from the start in the problem definition. 

Lastly, when you know you have satisfied stakeholders, don’t forget to congratulate your team on how they handled it, conduct a debrief and seek out and implement improvements in your systems to protect you from such a crisis happening again.

Matt Gosling ( has worked for 27 years in creating and leading teams and businesses.

He is the founder and Managing Director of Invigour Pty Ltd, which helps businesses create and fulfill corporate strategy and cultivates high-performing individuals and teams.

Nicole Baines

Nicole Baines runs All My Admin, a business that provides support services to Western Sydney Business Access (WSBA) for its online activities. Call (02) 9894 8682 for assistance.