How to build an organisation that copes in a crisis

Be ready, think about what went wrong and try to move on.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 08 Jul 2016

Even the most adept corporate climber comes up against a crisis at work from time to time. Whether it’s a big bust-up with colleagues or the spectacular failure of a big project, coping with these challenges isn’t always straightforward. Just ask the leaders of Britain’s two largest political parties. One has just been forced to resign on the back of a bad decision. The other has lost the confidence of those he is supposed to lead.

According to research by the Chartered Management Institute, only 55% of managers said they had dealt well with a crisis they had experienced, and 81% said a crisis had harmed their confidence at work. The CMI’s report, Bouncing Back, outlines six things leaders should do to make sure they and their workers can cope in a time of trouble.

1: Embrace failure. Not all failure can be celebrated – some things truly are catastrophic. But in most cases people are beginning to accept failure as an opportunity to learn and a necessary if unfortunate bump on the road to success. ‘An inclusive culture is one where failure is destigmatised and where managers are tolerant of mistakes, diverse views, and varying personalities, thereby mitigating fear of thinking differently and of failing,’ the report says. Managers have a responsibility to encourage this.

2. Manage risk – don’t avoid it altogether. As well as allowing people to fail, you need to encourage them to take risks – when necessary. Post-crisis there is a danger that people are less tolerant of risks. But if an organisation wants to thrive then a better attitude is to manage risks. ‘Don’t manage risk by avoiding it. Build up risk tolerance through creating a culture geared towards accountability,’ the CMI says.

3. Figure out what went wrong. ‘Taking responsibility where due and coming to terms with reality are the first steps to a come-back,’ the report says. Take the time to understand the cause of the crisis, but don’t let it consume you. ‘Major adversity survivors...say not to dwell on what happened but look to the future instead.’

4. Learn from your mistakes. Those who have been through a crisis are often more humble, more reflective and more self-aware. ‘It is usually only after experiencing a severely negative event that this mindset shifts to a more balanced one,’ says the report. ‘This realism is one of the hardest traits to emulate, which is why managers with experience of failure are so highly sought after, particularly for roles where crises are likely to be frequent or intense, such as high growth businesses.’

5+6. Mentors and support networks. Everyone can learn from other people and having close people you can lean on is always a bonus. Two thirds of managers with a mentor said they were helpful to have in a time of crisis, so it might be worth setting up such a scheme.


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