COVID-19 has introduced varying levels of crises into our lives in recent weeks. What are we to do when we find ourselves in crisis?

Healthcare systems and workers are being pushed to extremes with inadequate supplies and equipment. Big businesses are having to determine which employees are essential and how to keep those folks safe and healthy at work. Small businesses are having to lay people off, and shut down altogether in some cases. Family and friends are socially distancing to avoid spreading the virus. Paychecks and livelihoods are being affected. Grocery store shelves are being depleted. When the heck will we be able to buy a roll of toilet paper again?? Talk about a crisis!!

But haven’t most of us experienced some form of crisis before? And we lived to tell about it. And best of all, we learned from it. When we find ourselves in crisis today, we can reflect on how we responded to crises of the past and choose to invoke the behaviors that were beneficial and avoid making the same mistakes.

Crisis Lessons from My Experience

I recall a major quality excursion I was involved with resolving when I was Chemical Operations Product Assurance Manager. We discovered a defect on our product that was appearing randomly. This very quickly became a huge crisis.

  • CRISIS LESSON 1: Defects don’t occur “randomly”. The process is operating under a particular set of conditions, and when you understand what that condition is, you will see that creation of the defect is NOT “random” but very predictable!

My team and I investigated, searched and observed the process for days to find the source of the defect. We had the best process engineers, operators and managers from related departments working together, sharing what we were learning, and communicating multiple times a day.

  • CRISIS LESSON 2: Make decisions based on data and facts. Engage the right people in understanding the root of the crisis and in identifying the best solution and plan to resolve the crisis. Divide and conquer. Communicate early and often to keep everyone in the loop.

Customers were furious. Upper management was alarmed. I was sleep-deprived and super-stressed-out. I’m sure it was written all over my face. My employees and coworkers looked at me with a combination of pity, kindness and encouragement – you know, the “Poor Thing” look.

  • CRISIS LESSON 3: Take a deep breath. Keep up a brave face. Be honest and transparent about the issue and next steps, WHILE remaining positive and optimistic. Your energy is contagious! In the words of my former mentor and manager, Cary Alstadt, “We WILL get through this.”

We finally found it! We identified the exact circumstances that created the defect on our product. We were able to replicate the conditions and create the defect on purpose, so were sure we understood the problem. We fixed it in a way that it would never happen again. And then we celebrated!

  • CRISIS LESSON 4: Recognize the folks who are contributing to progress during crisis resolution. Document the learning that occurred during the crisis. Celebrate the teamwork that helped to achieve the outcome!

When we find ourselves in crisis, we have a chance to develop new managerial and leadership muscles, and to lead by example. Let’s remember that as we face the crises of today!

Stay safe and healthy, Friends!