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Organizational Resilience Goal #2: Coping With Crisis Through Stakeholder Involvement

Organizational Resilience Goal #2: Coping With Crisis Through Stakeholder Involvement
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You are a high stakes leader in the midst of a crisis situation. How might you involve your stakeholders in the coping stage of our organizational resilience model? Have you ever thought about how your stakeholders might be a great resource during a crisis? Perhaps you should. Later in this course we’ll dedicate an entire module to crisis leadership and the best way for high stakes leaders to guide their team through a crisis situation. So we won’t go too deeply into these concepts here. But as we think about this notion of organizational resilience, our team’s, our enterprise’s ability to cope effectively with unexpected events. And bounce back from crises.
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It’s worth exploring the inclusion of our stakeholders and the collection of assets we have at our disposal during a major disruption. Researchers of organizational resilience tell us that during a crisis, organizational leaders should be engaged in two distinct processes. One is the cognitive process of accepting that a crisis is, indeed, playing out. The second is a behavioral process of taking action. Let’s consider each of these for a moment. It’s interesting to think that it can be difficult sometimes for leaders to acknowledge that a crisis is actually taking place around them. As we’ve all seen, humans have a tendency toward denial, even when considerable evidence is telling them otherwise.
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I very much agree with the observation shared by Gary Hamel and Lisa Välikangas in their article The Quest for Resilience. For many organizations they observed, the future is less unknowable than it is unthinkable. In many cases, we simply struggle to accept our reality. Consider the COVID-19 pandemic and how leaders around the world processed the evidence they were facing. As you watched the pandemic develop, what did you see from these leaders? Yes, let’s recognize that sometimes it’s difficult to predict how situations will evolve. It’s always easy to look back and judge the performance of crisis leaders once the facts have become clear and the impact of the crisis can be measured more accurately.
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In fact, we’ll examine this very challenge in our exploration of the crisis environment later in the course. But as the COVID pandemic began to present a global threat, we saw many world leaders in full denial that the situation would become an actual crisis. In the context of our resilience model, what could these leaders have done to help them embrace the pending crisis and begin to more effectively deal with it? They could have engaged their stakeholders, their experts, those who are analyzing the situation, and given more credence to their input. From the COVID pandemic, there is a great lesson in the value of engaging stakeholders to help you recognize when you are in fact facing or about to face a crisis.
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I’m not suggesting that you won’t have to sit through interpretations of the facts or expert intuition rather than certainty because you will. But we saw far too many cases of leaders completely ignoring the experts or dismissing their assessments during the COVID crisis not to recognize the deep flaw in that approach. Why do some leaders feel that their intuition is more accurate than that of the experts who’ve spent their entire lifetime studying a very narrow slice of science? Psychologists can tell you why in great detail, but we won’t go there now. Having watched the COVID pandemic play out, we all know that it happens. And sadly, we all know that it happens a lot.
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As high stakes leaders, we really should check our hubris at the door and invite our experts into the conversation. The second process from our organizational resilience model is taking action, specifically developing and implementing solutions. Again, we’ll explore leadership behaviors a bit later in this course. But for now, how might a crisis leader engage stakeholders to play an active role in the coping phase of our model? There are a couple of ways that I’d like you to consider. First, as we’re developing solutions we can ask our stakeholders for input.
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Now in the middle of a full blown crisis situation, you may not have time to ask stakeholders for all of their ideas, but you may have time, if your relationships with stakeholders are solid and you’ve established a partnership with a number of these groups. To ask stakeholders to help you identify the root cause of an issue, helping you formulate solutions. Or you might ask stakeholders to identify a preferred option from a small set of potential solutions. You could also, and I really like this option, ask your stakeholders to take actions that would allow them to help themselves. What might that look like?
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As a former airline executive I must say that I’ve been impressed with Delta Airlines commitment to technology in providing a sense of control to their customers through their various web based and mobile friendly technology. Imagine that Delta’s found itself in the middle of a significant system disruption, perhaps a major operational crisis caused by a large weather system or an air traffic control issue. Now imagine that the disruption has impacted your flight with the airline. As a customer, what are your expectations of Delta in this situation? What level of control, would you want to reduce or eliminate the impact that the crisis is having on you?
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Well Delta has created a mechanism for customers to help themselves in these type of situations. They allow their customers to use their mobile devices to re-book their own flights, to find solutions that are best suited to each individual customer. Historically, the re-booking process has been a long and frustrating experience for customers. It’s also placed a tremendous strain on the company’s resources. When hundreds or thousands of customers have needed the help of human customer service agents, not anymore. Now when Delta finds itself in the midst of an operational crisis, it’s able to offload some of its crisis management tasks on to customers who interestingly, are very happy to accept the responsibility. Because it clearly is in their best interest.
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This is an example of a company leveraging the relationship with a key stakeholder group to develop and implement the solution during a crisis to more effectively cope with the situation, to increase their capacity for resilience. This is also a wonderful illustration of how important it is for high stakes leaders to proactively develop solutions for what we’ll call predictable crises, and have them at the ready to implement when they are needed. These are excellent lessons for high stakes leaders to keep in mind when they’re looking to increase their capacity for resilience. Stakeholders aren’t just a liability when an organization is working through a crisis situation, sometimes they can actually provide a significant contribution to the solution.
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High Stakes Leadership: Leading in Times of Crisis

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