5 Tips for Handling Crises

It made national headlines last week: Atlanta’s I-85 bridge collapsed. A three-mile stretch of highway, carrying 250,000 drivers a day through the middle of the city, was shut down after a massive fire caused a bridge to collapse.

Thousands of business owners were suddenly faced with a huge problem. How do they get their employees to work? What about delivery trucks? What about customers getting to their place of business? Businesses close to the collapse faced a worse crisis as access to their companies was compromised. Several businesses in the area are closed as they figure out what to do.

The I-85 bridge collapse in Atlanta caused a crisis for many metro-area businesses.

There were a lot of unknowns about the situation. But one thing is for certain – a city with massive traffic problems already was about to get a lot worse.

As a CEO or business owner, you may have thought through many contingencies and have a plan for what to do in certain circumstances. Maybe you have a bad-weather plan that covers managing your company for a week or two if conditions prevent people from driving to work. If you did have a plan on how to handle transportation issues in the event of a major artery being closed, congratulations!  You are ahead of the game.

For most people, however, a bridge collapse of this magnitude or some other unpredictable crisis falls into the “Expect the Unexpected” category. Here are a few tips on how to manage your company during a time of crisis.

  1. Don’t panic. Don’t stress yourself by imagining worse-case scenarios. Remind yourself you are capable of leading your company in good times and bad and you’ll figure out a way to manage this one as well. People take their cues from you and it’s important for you to remain calm in the face of any type of crisis. Manage your stress levels. When I deal with CEOS in a crisis situation, teaching them how to manage the stress in their lives is crucial to guiding them through a crisis.
  1. Correspond with employees, vendors and stakeholders as soon as possible. People don’t do well with uncertainty. Even if you don’t yet have a plan, reassure everyone that you are meeting with senior management and will be back in touch with your plan. Reassure them and convey a sense of calmness will let them know you are on top of the situation.
  1. Ask for your employees input. As part of gathering information to formulate a plan, it can be a good idea to ask your employees as well as senior management for any intel they may have about the particular situation. For the bridge collapse, asking for information people may have heard through their neighborhood associations about alternatives or finding out information about their access to public transportation can be helpful.
  1. Get creative. Consider all possibilities in the wake of a crisis. If ever there is a time for out-of-the-box thinking, it can be during a time of crisis. Some Atlanta companies have implemented staggered working hours for employees, added more options for telecommuting and are giving discounts to employees for monthly passes on public transportation. A rental car company that has an empty lot and is cut off from getting new inventory is thinking of sending new renters to the airport and compensating them accordingly.
  1. Pick one plan and stick to it. As I advise in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” when facing a crisis, pick one logical and reasonable plan and stick with it. Align everyone and everything in your company towards this goal and for this plan.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.