Never Waste a Good Crisis: There is Always a Lesson to Learn from Every Incident

By Paul Bieber

A crisis is a serious problem that you did not anticipate and don’t have a ready solution that will correct it or limit the damage. A crisis is going to cost you money and upset your customers whose work you had promised to finish. Somehow you limp through and get everything done, but looking back, you didn’t make any money during this time. A day after the smoke has cleared, you say “thanks” to whomever you pray and ask that it doesn’t happen again. I’m glad you got out of the weeds, but praying doesn’t prevent that next crisis. The only thing that does work is identifying how the crisis occurred and laying out a plan to prevent or lessen the next one.

Crisis Management 101

First, layout exactly what happened in your crisis, including what caused it and who was involved. Next, jot down three or four ways you could have avoided or reduced the impact. Maybe you need more than one vendor that supplies a product. Possibly you need to crosstrain folks to handle a crisis. Discuss this crisis with your whole company and the problem(s) caused. Explain what you have done to prevent this from happening again.

If it was a vendor problem, start finding new vendors to whom you’ll give 20% of your business. Now, expand that beyond the one product and develop this 20% formula for every significant product you use.

Maybe the crisis was due to someone being hurt on a job. It wasn’t serious, but you lost one day of work from your foreperson, who drove the injured to the walk-in clinic. Then you lost two days of the injured employee’s time. This put you behind and made your customer mad. He doesn’t care if someone was hurt and is going to deduct 5% from your final payment.

In your after-crisis planning, set up another round of crosstraining. Discuss why the foreperson shouldn’t stay all day with the injured and how, if necessary, you’ll send someone else from the office. Then you go over the safety rules for the whole company and see what caused the accident. Many companies have a weekly or monthly mandatory safety meeting with all employees.

Another Example

Let’s say you have two shower doors to install today and 20 minutes after the van leaves the office, you get the phone call that another driver rear-ended your van. The only injury is to the van. You call the tow truck to bring the van back to the shop, unload it and take it to a body shop. Calling both customers is like walking on thin ice and they’re upset, both having stayed home from work for the day. You get there two days later with your other truck. Both customers are glad you installed it, but they want a discount on their bills for the extra days of work they missed.

The crisis meeting says the problem is not the accident. Your driver was not at fault and had loaded the truck correctly, so no glass was broken. You need another truck, or easier access to a truck that you can borrow at a moment’s notice. Solution: Set up an account at a local truck rental to have a working van available and delivered to your office on an hour’s notice. The other driver’s insurance, or yours, should pay for this. Even if they don’t, this will be less expensive than paying your customer for a day off.

So, when a crisis occurs, go over it with your team, learn from it, and use this information to reduce the impact of your next crisis.

Paul Bieber has more than 40 years’ experience in the glass industry, with C.R. Laurence and as executive vice president of Floral Glass in New York. He is now the principal of Bieber Consulting Group LLC and can be reached at paulbaseball@msn.com. Read his blog on Tuesdays at http://usgpaul.usglassmag.com.

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