Barack Obama - Managing the Storm
LMC31 Jul 2012
It takes certain calibre of individual to effectively manage a crisis. Throughout Obamas term in office he has had to manage a financial crisis, withdrawal from Iraq, controversial Health Bill and hunting down of Bin Laden. It is clear that President Obama has the ability to effectively manage such critical situations while keeping calm and instilling confidence and stability within those he leads. The question is how? Are certain people more bale to handle the pressure and decision making within a crisis?
This article looks at the 10 keys steps needed to manage and lead within a crisis situation.
Step 1. Identify the problem
Obama inherited an economy with a monumental financial deficit. Many thought that he would be unable to facilitate a recovery but in 2012 the USA is on the road to recovery. The first step is to identify what is the crisis? The focus should not be what caused it or who is to blame but rather what it is in clear terms. This can also be referred to as the problem statement.
Step 2. Create a team
Now that the crisis is defined, what areas does it effect? Obama is no doubt a great president but he is only that good due to the support team behind him. He assembled a team who were experts within specific related areas. From a business standpoint this generally means: executive management with a representative, marketing/product management, operations, legal, human resources, information technology, finance, PR or media relations sales and research & development. However depending on the nature of the crisis some of the key business may not necessary, so do not include them in the team just to fill a seat. For other organisations such as non-profits it may include: executive leadership, development, IT, member relations, finance, PR or media relations, human resources and marketing.
Step 3. Set up a command center.
Obama understood that daily and focused meetings were a critical part of managing and resolving the crisis. A clear example of this can be seen in the images taken during the Bin Laden Mission. Obama and his team can be seen gathered in a conference room focused on the problem at hand. Find a place where all the members of the team can meet and updates on the crises can be monitored, tracked and key decisions can be made.
Step 4. Communicate out.
Obama is truly a man of the media. He is a master at communicating clearly and effectively! The first thing the team needs to do once the core issue has been identified is communicate the problems and what is being done about it quickly and clearly to all appropriate media outlets through PR or media relations. Generally, more information is better. Also the more senior the person providing the updates is the better. Ideally it should be the CEO of the company or organisation or the most senior person directly involved with the crisis. Also it is key to update customers, investors, shareholders, employees, clients - anyone with an interest in the company or organisation.
Step 5. Problem breakdown
Obama and his team understood the financial problem however and equally understood that any solution would be complex and require a detailed breakdown of the key issues. Organistions alike should break down the problem with the crisis management team. Identify what the problem is, what the potential solutions are and which are the most viable courses of action. If needed bring in other subject matter experts but do not take the accountable functional areas owners out of the loop. They are responsible and own a successful resolution from their business area.
Step 6. Receive communications in.
A natural result of any crisis is worry and concern which only serve to further deepen the crisis! Obama understood the need to keep key stakeholders informed and facilitate clear and effective communication. Organisations must be able to respond and address concerns of customers, employees and shareholders. Examples of effective approaches to this are set up of phone hotlines and web portals related to the crises. It is critical that knowledgeable people take the calls. If they cannot due to high influx, have a mechanism so every call is returned with an answer in 24 hours. The same holds true with e-mails. The golden rule here is Transparency, Efficiency and Clarity.
Step 7. Resolve the problem.
Nothing is more important than resolving the problem or crises because it is a disruption to everyday business. It could ruin the reputation of the business or organisation and in some cases can destroy shareholder value. For other organisations it can impact membership, causes, careers, lives and worse. The crisis team needs to commit their time, money and energy and also grab the best and the brightest internal or external to the company or organisation to resolve the problem or crisis as quickly as possible.
8. Provide updates and resolution.
Keep the all stakeholders including the media well informed. Obama and his team are masters at this. They Communicate updates through all outlets and communicate final resolution of crisis at the most senior level available. The golden rule here is to Communicate frequently. Communicate in a timely fashion. Do not hold information back. Make leaders, functional owners and subject matter experts available to questions from the media (all forms) as well as customers, employees and shareholders. Have all communication controlled through the command center i.e. centrally.
Step 9. Investigate (the post mortem).
Once the crisis is resolved time can be taken to look at the reason and cause.
Establish a team to investigate what happened, why, who was responsible and what actions need to be taken to insure that it does not happen again (or is minimised). Ensure the team has full access plus as much time and budget as they need to do their jobs effectively.
Step 10. Integrate improvements
Integrate the findings of the team into business as usual. Take the learning’s from the crises to change the business or organisation so there is a minimal chance of the crisis repeating itself. Make these changes known to all the company's or organisation's stakeholders employees and customers. A n example of this are the rigorous and severe changes to the US banking regulations. Obama understood that resolving a crisis is one thing but putting polices, practices and measure in place is vital to avoid or minimise any future situations.
Despite the steps above it is a fact….Crises happen - no matter how careful, quality conscience and integrity focused any company or organisation considers itself. When they do, it is up to the leadership to establish a crises team and command center quickly. Obama has shown this throughout his term in office both on the Global and Home political stages. He has shown his ability to manage and lead within a crisis. By following these 10 steps, organistions and company’s should be able to effectively deal and resolve a crisis.