Getting in the Fight: Transitioning to Crisis

Change is hard, and the transition from ‘peacetime’ to crisis is one of the hardest. Facing the spread of COVID-19, that’s where many of us find ourselves today: struggling to adjust to the reality of what we are facing. That might be personally, within your family, or at an organizational level. However, I can’t think of anywhere that’s going to escape this contagion so, no matter the level, we all have to transition and the faster, the better.

Again, I appreciate that this change is hard, but I’ve identified four things that should help make this change from peacetime or normality to crisis mode. I’ve seen these work to great effect in the past so these aren’t just for the coronavirus and work in any crisis situation, but COVID-19 is probable the most significant issue folks are dealing with right now. Apply these wherever you see some reluctance to transition to response and you should be able to start tackling the effects of the virus and prepare for the new normal that we’re all facing.

The first and most important step is to accept that you’re in crisis. Until you accept this fact and the enormity of what you’re facing, you won’t have the appropriate mindset to be successful. The most significant barrier to acceptance is your emotions, which often resemble Ross and Kessler’s five stages of grief: Denial / Anger / Bargaining / Depression / Acceptance © Ross and Kessler’s 5 Stages of Grief.

However, until you reach the acceptance stage, you won’t be able to attend to the crisis.

You have to push yourself and others to move through these stages quickly and this is something that you can develop over time but people will all process their emotions differently and at different speeds. Importantly, these feelings don’t go away and have to be dealt with eventually, so keep that in mind and provide proper support at a later date.

Next, you have to start to take action. This can be dealing with some quick wins to start the ball rolling, but there are two reasons you need to take action as quickly as possible. Firstly, this formalizes the start of the response and generates momentum. Secondly, this prevents small things from becoming bigger. When you are dealing with something like the spread of a virus with a very aggressive growth trajectory, these early interventions will have a disproportionately positive impact.

Next, you need to streamline things and strip away anything that’s going to slow you down. The two questions you need to ask are:

  • What’s essential for survival?
  • What’s essential for your objectives?

Once you’ve identified these essentials, you can pause / de-prioritize non-essentials temporarily. That’s going to help you focus on what’s absolutely critical to get your response underway and to protect whatever’s fundament to you, your family, or your organization.

Importantly, this streamlining also applies to processes, your chain of command or decision-making process, and any red-tape. You need to be fast and nimble in these situations, so get rid of any excess baggage.

Finally, start to plan for what’s coming next. Even if you have general contingency plans in place, you need to map out how things could develop based on the exact situation you are facing. And make sure you are being realistic: there’s no point planning for the best-case scenario when you’re in a crisis because the best case has gone. Layer the risks from your risk register to this map to identify the ID triggers / decision points that required you to take specific action or that indicate that you’ve started down a particular fork in the path. And make sure you keep track of these triggers and decision-points because your route in will also be your pathway out when it’s time to transition to whatever our new normal looks like.

When you identify an emerging path (i.e. things start happening), then start detailed planning for that scenario and start executing as soon as possible. Meanwhile, you also need to allocate some capacity to develop top-level contingencies for all potential paths, so you are ready to respond to whatever changes occur next.

These four steps or Accept, Action, Streamline, and Plan should help you overcome whatever inertia or stasis you might encounter at the beginning of a crisis. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the hurdle to overcome to get started but that’s also when you need to move most quickly. Remember, fight or flight no longer applies because flight isn’t an option: you’re in the arena and have to act accordingly. Similarly, you have to be an active participant in what follows and make success happen. 

Finally, please remember that you have to act faster than you are comfortable with and throw everything you have at the situation.

“If People Think We’re Overreacting, That Means We’re Doing It Right”

Dr. Fauci, head of the US National Institutes of Health speaking about the response to the Coronavirus in March 2020

Photo by Bernd Viefhues on Unsplash

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