If there is one thing that has become a recurring theme in my 10 year Supply Chain career, it is the frequency of “crisis management” situations. I remember starting as a CPFR analyst and having my first “crisis” after launching a very successful new product and running out of stock. Questions I asked myself: “What do I do? How is the customer going to react? Is my reputation ruined with them? How do I get my internal teams to care?”
Challenges like this early in your career can seem like impossible tasks to overcome, but as we grow, we continue to face challenges like this with increased magnitude. Snow storms, power outages, cyber-attacks, labor constraints, and a plethora of unforeseen events will challenge our ability to service our customers. Success is not defined by having zero issues, but it is defined by how our teams navigate our various challenges.
Below are a few key learnings I want to pass on to help you and your team manage more effectively through a crisis:
- Stay calm and set priorities – A calm leader passes that feeling of safety on to their team, and therefore enables them to make better decisions. Try to stay calm and understand what priorities absolutely must happen and which ones are less important. Trying to juggle all balls during a crisis can mean you drop all of them. Drop a few on purpose here to ensure you keep the important ones in the air.
- Communicate to external and internal customers – Work quickly to clearly understand the impact. Use your network internally and externally to communicate to the right people depending on the magnitude of the problem. Think of this as an opportunity to build trust and equity by notifying the right people and coming with a clear action plan.
- Don’t dwell on what went wrong…yet – In the initial phases of crisis management it can be tempting to spend time on what happened and why you shouldn’t even be in the current situation. This can quickly turn into group complaining, excuses, and an overall delay of execution. Keep your “time machine” in storage while your team is in the fray. Stay positive, understanding where we are today and how to quickly get out. You can fire the “time machine” up for the next step and avoid wasting valuable time you need to react and execute in the moment.
- Perform a post mortem – Once out of crisis mode, clearly understand the root cause of why the initial failure happened. Also take time to think of how you personally could have handled the situation better. Be critical of yourself so that you continue to grow. Ask yourself: “Did I communicate at the right time? Did I involve the right people? Should I have seen this coming? Did I handle the stress appropriately or did I pass stress on to my teams?”
- Celebrate success across teams – An incredible amount of cross-functional work goes into digging out of a hole, so remember that we do not do it alone. Take the time to recognize the work across teams that it took to get out of the hole. I promise you that your Supply Chain teams will appreciate this piece.
I can tell you that I have failed multiple times at following these guidelines during a perceived crisis, but as everyone should, I have tried to learn from my missteps. None of us are perfect, and no one I know possesses a time machine. Take time to reflect so you can use your experiences to ensure the next “crisis” is an “opportunity” to gather your team together and deliver an amazing result.
* Director of Supply Chain (Mass/Club) – Reckitt Benckiser
* Title and company of the author reflect their position at the time article was written.
The opinions expressed here by guest bloggers are their own, not necessarily those of Stout Executive Search.