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Handling An Operational Crisis: How To Tell If One’s On The Way



​Running a business is not easy. There are a number of variables floating around on any given day that can affect how things flow. Having policies, procedures and rules in place, and hiring smartly helps the business grow with lesser snafus. Yet, there are ticking timebombs!

A variety of issues could be waiting in the wings, each with the potential to escalate into a full-blown crisis if not discovered and addressed in time.


A major crisis can present a threat to the stability, reputation and even the existence of an organization. A recent example is the one that Starbucks handled so well, it never even made headlines outside of the United States. In 2018, two African-Americans were waiting for a friend at Starbucks and since they hadn’t ordered anything, the manager reported them to the police. Almost immediately, the incident went viral but the top brass stepped up to offer a genuine apology, apart from setting up sensitisation programs across the country. What could have been a PR nightmare, became instead an example of honesty in times of social media. The operational crises are usually far less evident until they blow up. Come to think of it, Microsoft’s investment in a phone OS is what one would call an operational crisis, and the only reason it didn’t blow up is because the parent company had enough resources, and foresight, to backtrack and course-correct quickly.


What does an operational crisis look like?

To answer this question, see whether the following boxes are checked:

❏ Does the problem threaten to halt the day-to-day operations of the company? ❏ Does the situation call for rapid and competent decisions to effect damage control? ❏ Is there an element of contingency, sudden-ness or shock?


If your situation checks all these boxes, you have an operational crisis on your hands.


An operational crisis could be varied, depending on the size and nature of your business or industry. For instance,

● In small businesses, a key person suddenly quitting could derail pre-set goals and projections, and affect company morale ● In industries, an extended power cut or a labour strike could halt manufacturing operations and cause major delays ● In today’s tech-dependent multiverse, a cyber attack causing a massive data or security breach could put everything from bank accounts to entire populations in jeopardy.


Reading the warning signs: Know when an operational crisis is on the way

Crises and deadlocks when they occur have at least this advantage, that they force us to think. Jawaharlal Nehru

Forewarned is forearmed. Use data and chatter to stay on top of what is going on, because effective crisis management also includes recognizing when a crisis is brewing: ● Focus on any recent negative feedback or customer complaints you may have received about your brand or product ● Keep competitor activity on your radar ● Keep an eye on your company’s social media account and internal messaging or company blogs. Have a list of keywords that flag any trending conversations that should put you on the alert ● Stay connected to employees and monitor the social climate ● Conduct regular checks to maintain cyber security, building security, and soundness of infrastructure ● Stay up to date on industry news. If a crisis strikes elsewhere but in a business or operation similar to yours, do an internal pulse-check to assess your own vulnerability and counter-measures.


At the leadership level, here’s what you can do in case of a crisis

​● First, anticipate crises and take preemptive action. ● If a crisis has struck, contain it to prevent further escalation. ● Find out who or what has been affected the most, and offer support ●Assemble a core team of personnel most apt to manage various aspects of the situation under your observation. Maintain communication to get constant status updates and make decisions accordingly ● Stay at the helm till the crisis has passed ● Salvage what you can and get the damage under control ● Incorporate your lessons into an effective crisis management strategy for next time.

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