It takes all kinds of people to do all kinds of things. We all have different skills and talents.
Personally, I love a crisis.
Most of my working life, if not all of it, has been concerned with managing crises.
Once a journalist asked me if I had “ever thought of working for somebody people like?”
My immediate thought was – where’s the fun in that?
People who specialise in my sort of communications work are most needed when people and organisations are unpopular, doing something wrong, been caught out, want to avoid being caught out, or are possibly, I mean definitely, being falsely accused.
My first job was as a “bag carrier” for those making the big decisions in the world’s biggest oil company as the world staggered from one crisis to another caused by the action of people in or associated with my industry.
Everyday it seemed as though the product we sold might just not be there, or be there at the wrong price. Business diversity had yet to be invented!
Some of my earliest job memories are of senior executives close to their retirements having to put their lives into a cardboard box and go home on the bus after making a wrong decision.
My second threw me into looking after politicians as they faced personal and political crises, culminating in the resignation of my boss as prime minister.
This was also an era of civil strife and daily terrorist threats.
I lived my last five years of this job with an x-ray machine in my office, a panic alarm on my desk, a bomb detector attached to my car and a retractable mirror in my bag for checking around the office, home, and car for explosives.
My third involved a crisis-a-day working for the world’s biggest food service business including employee and customer deaths, a business-critical food safety scare, the country’s longest running legal trial, and a major global corporate turnaround.
In my fourth job with the world’s biggest software business, I was faced the world’s biggest anti-trust action and business threatening EU shenanigans, and major online child safety issues.
In my fifth job it was more IT based challenges, this time with the world’s biggest IT contract as the we tried and failed to drag the NHS out of the last century, compounded with data loss incidents, and the first stock market dive in the company’s history.
My sixth job saw our business having its facilities attacked by a helicopter raid firing rockets and a major international currency counterfeiting scam.
In my consultancy life, my client work has been concerned with managing one major global business crisis and recovery from it, and avoiding two other issues becoming mega-crises.
Consultancy-side of course it is much more lucrative when things go wrong than when they go right.
So I’ve made clients very happy but my FDs not so! A crisis is always good for business when you’re a consultant, profiting from the misfortunes of others.
In every single one of these roles and on every single day in them I can honestly say that I woke up almost hoping that there would be a crisis to manage.
Such is the perversion of people who do my kind of job – we just love a crisis!
When working with my like-minded colleagues over the years, the very best in the business, I have often had to remind them not to look as though they are enjoying themselves while everybody else in the business looks to be on the point of slitting their wrists.
Crisis management is a funny old world!
Drawing on that experience I would say some of the most important attributes a good crisis manager needs are…
- A clear head and calm disposition. A sense of perspective and ability to find an opportunity in every threat.
- The ability to work 24/7 and run on adrenalin. Sleep is the enemy of crisis management!
- The confidence to take career threatening decisions. I have been threatened with the sack three times for taking the course of action I have proposed. Each time I was fortunately proved right and not fired, but being prepared to be fired is a crucial attribute.
- To not get distracted by subjective assessments of right and wrongs, and concentrate on winning the day. All crises are a battle. There will be a winner and a loser. The sole responsibility of a crisis manager is to avoid being the loser.
- Make sure that crisis management does not consume the business, unless it already has and the whole business is in crisis. It’s vital that somebody else maintains business as usual. There’s no point in winning a reputation challenge only to find that the money walked out of the door while we weren’t looking.
- Without wanting to sound too “Polly Anna”, to remember that tomorrow is another day. I’ve lost some of those battles, particularly in politics when on one infamous night I managed to lose 24 council seats in one go. Very careless. I was picked up by my opposite number from my opposing party who simply said “you win some you lose some. My turn next year?”
- Oh, and even if you’re not sleeping … do remember to eat.