Dealing with Emergencies

Dealing with Emergencies

By: Mary Erlain, Peak Development Strategies

The most productive individuals are those who master the art of taking care of emergency situations, unexpected and unplanned, that require immediate attention to prevent serious consequences. “Fire fighting” is the usual term for handling a crisis. “Fire fighting” ranges from such relatively simple problems as soothing an unhappy customer to solving a major emergency production or personnel problem.

Even the best planning and training fail to prevent an occasional unanticipated situation that must be handled on the spot. When vital machinery breaks down, key people are sick or hurt, or outside circumstances affect your work, adjustments must be made. When a crisis occurs, minimize lost time by following these suggestions:

Stay calm. The existence of a crisis implies that something is out of normal control. If, in addition, you lose control of your emotions, it becomes difficult to make rational decisions that meet the needs of the moment. Tell yourself, “I’ve solved harder problems under pressure. I can solve this one, too.” Your calm, matter-of-fact acceptance of the situation and the assumption that it can be handled keep both you and other people calm and able to bring the situation back under control.

Isolate the major consideration. When a crisis arises, something will probably be lost as a result of the situation – either time, money, or materials. Decide what loss can be tolerated and what loss must be avoided. Isolate the root problem so you can immediately respond to the real issue. Your objective is to solve the problem and regain control without a critical loss. For example, perhaps a breakdown occurs that will cause a delay in the production of a component needed to fill an important order. You realize that a time delay would represent a substantial loss for this important client. Failure to meet your obligations to this customer is a loss you cannot afford. You would be well advised, therefore, to authorize overtime for repairs and production, or to shift the critical component to another production line and delay work on a less critical job.

Return conditions to normal as soon as possible. The objective in crisis management is to take personal charge of the situation for only as long as you are needed. Make the suggestion, take the action, give the instruction, and then step out; let the person who is normally in charge complete the job. Offer only the necessary help and trust your people to carry through.

Learn something from each crisis. The handling of each crisis situation should make a direct contribution to future crisis prevention. After the excitement is over and the situation has returned to normal, hold a debriefing session to discuss the crisis with those involved to determine how a similar emergency can be avoided in the future. Make this a training opportunity and a planning experience – not a “place-the-blame” session. The more all team members learn about crisis management, the more capable they will be to handle future emergencies and the less you will be required to become involved yourself.

Mary Erlain is a published author, business coach, facilitator, and professional speaker. Mary offers business professionals the services they need to thrive in their business roles. She emphasizes the need to set personal as well as professional goals. Helping clients achieve work-life balance is an integral part of her mission. Contact Mary directly at: