"My most important priority is deciding what my priorities are."
—Anonymous sales executive
Crises are bound to come from time to time. When a crisis happens, we lose control of the situation. As we manage through the crisis, we attempt to regain control. (Some of us are crisis managers. We say, "I do my best work under pressure.") The only way to prevent the same type of crisis from happening again is to learn from it, to debrief after the crisis is over, to understand the root causes behind the crisis, and to take steps to keep them from recurring.
Crisis managers don't have time to do that because as soon as one crisis has ended, they are moving to the next. Why? It's exciting. They know what they need to do, and they and everyone else who has to pitch in to solve the crisis can actually see the objective achieved when the crisis is over. In the meantime, there is a high cost in terms of resources and burnout if this continues for too long. Other higher-value work doesn't get done, which, of course, leads to the next crisis. And so on.
Why do we too often become willing crisis contributors, people who seem to prefer to work in a crisis environment?
A crisis can get us energized.
A crisis pulls people together.
A crisis gives us a clear goal.
A crisis requires immediate attention.
People won't bother us for lower priority work when they know we are fighting the "crisis."
Author and consultant Peter Drucker noted that effective people focus on results, not just activities. Effective people set and stay with priorities.
Five Lessons on Managing Through a Distraction[*]
Have a strategic vision and peripheral vision: look ahead, look around.
Build a strong team. Success is always derived from the right people and teamwork
Communicate constantly with people through meetings, E-mails, texts, social media, voice mail, and Webcasts.
Know more about your business than observers or critics do.
Have a strong internal compass. Know what you need to do, but be flexible.
A crisis gives us excitement, focus, and satisfaction when it's solved. But if we want to get out of the crisis mentality mode we need to find something else that does the same thing. You can't be a crisis manager and sales leader at the same time.
What else can give us excitement, focus, and satisfaction? Achieving worthwhile, challenging goals. Seeing your solutions implemented by your customers will. By actively deciding what we want to achieve and what we want to strive for, we create positive energy and excitement.
The difference between a crisis and a goal is the difference between reacting to the past and problems and focusing on the future and opportunities.
If you find yourself working in an organization that tends to function at the crisis level, what should you do? First, make sure you have your own priorities in line. Second, don't be lulled into a crisis mentality. That happens when you get caught up in the activity trap and aren't clear about the difference between activities that add value versus those that don't. Third, maintain your sense of control over your work, but don't promote the perception that you aren't "busy." People who function with a crisis mentality expect others to support the resolution of the crisis. Move quickly, act supportively, and keep an eye on your longer-term, high-value priorities.
We need to think about the system as we define problems and solutions. If we fail to take into account how one change will affect something else, the change will not work or may be ineffective. The change may even backfire.
For example, if you attempt to lower costs, what happens to quality? If you attempt to speed up delivery time, what happens to cost? When you change something in one department, does it affect other people or departments?
There are very few situations in which making one change doesn't affect something else. If these other effects are secondary and you are aware of them, you can either accommodate them or ignore them, as long as you consciously decide.
[*]Carly Fiorina, former CEO, Hewlett-Packard, as reported in the Wall Street Journal