Crisis Management – A Primer

Jason, the young, energetic and new management trainee is bubbling with enthusiasm as he goes through his ‘orientation program’ in We-Make-It-Happen, Inc. On the fifth day of his ‘training’ in the Logistics department, a unit tasked with fulfilling a deliberately confusing set of functions and (ir)responsibilities, he meets with the departmental head, Tom, for the final act.

Tom: Jason, welcome on board. I hope you have been provided with a good insight into the working of this department.

Jason: Yes, indeed. I am very impressed with the variety of activities that your people are taking care of to keep the organization moving forward.

Tom: Is that so (never realized that)? Never mind the routine stuff. I will help you get prepared for crisis management, which is where we excel.

Jason: I am all ears.

Tom: Do you know what the first step is or should be in managing a crisis?

Jason: Er, hmm…. Understand the problem? Find out the importance? Determine impact on customers?

Tom (with a triumphant look): No, not at all. First you need to create a crisis!

Jason (bewildered): Why would you do that? I thought crises happen, not get created deliberately.

Tom: You need experience for that. We will provide you with plenty of opportunities to do so. The point here is that by creating a crisis that is convenient to you, you can be ready with the steps to resolve that, without running the risk of being blamed for it.

Jason (stunned): Never thought of that…..

Tom: Yes, that is the way it works. For example, when you come to know that a shipment due next week is delayed, you make alternate plans but DO NOT let anyone else know till the eleventh hour. Then….

Jason (unable to hold back): But sir…..isn’t the purpose of the Logistics department to foresee, plan and prevent disruptions to the organization?

Tom: Jason, don’t be a fool. And don’t insult my management skills. I am not here to prevent disruptions … or to help some hard working fool in Operations. I need to make myself indispensable…….   Anyway, to continue the story, as late as possible, you send out an email to all people (do not forget to include the CEO and the heads of various departments) about the unfortunate delay in the arrival of supplies…

Jason: …. Along with the alternate plan of action?

Tom (irritated): Patience, my dear child, patience. You have to time these things to perfection. In the first email, you should mention that you are working round the clock to find an alternate solution to the problem, putting yourself in the limelight while seeming to sacrifice your evenings and personal time.

Jason (now all eager and attentive): Then……

Tom: The next morning, at or before 5 AM, you send out an “Eureka” email stating that you have successfully negotiated with the supplier and diverted a truck meant for another customer to your company …… and you are heading out in the wee hours of the morning to the office to receive the truck.

Jason (full of admiration): Wow……that is cool ……in fact, fantastic.

Tom (smiling): And at 8 AM while everyone else is walking into the office to check the good news in their inboxes, you slouch in your chair with a cup of coffee and put on a look that is tired, satisfied and resigned at the same time.

Jason went home a wiser man, well educated in the ways of corporate life.

Deliverables

If you thought the words ‘delivery’ and ‘deliverable’ belonged to a branch of medicine pertaining to women and children or associated these words with the responsibilities of your local Post Office, you may be excused and even offered a free course on an important facet of corporate nuances – read on and become wiser.

A ‘Deliverable’ in corporate speak covers anything and everything – a sandwich for lunch, the Bridge on the River Kwai, an idea to confuse people and, well, even a plot not to deliver anything. With the right imagination, accompanied by a crafty but indecipherable description, each and every (non)activity can be mysteriously turned into a ‘deliverable’.

One must concede that management gurus like Peter Drucker may have invented the ‘deliverable’ as a means of providing an objective way to measure success or failure upon completion of a nebulous task. However, true to the ingenuity of corporate scholars of today, the exact opposite effect has come to stay – converting simple and intuitive outcomes into incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo.

The idea of a deliverable may be used to convert a simple result into a monumental outcome. Thus, a simple orientation session for new recruits in an organization can be positioned to ‘deliver’ the following:

  • welcome new hires and make them feel at home
  • help them become familiar with the nearest restrooms and fire exits
  • infuse the sense of belonging and commitment to the organization
  • create an appreciation for the nutritional values of different lunch options
  • ….and so on

In case the reader has failed to notice, the above deliverables are carefully defined to defy objective measurement of any kind. An added benefit of such definitions is that, where an external agency is involved in providing such complex deliverables, what may otherwise look like an exorbitant consultancy fee can readily be projected as a fair reward.

At the other end of the spectrum, the ‘deliverable’ phenomenon is used by veterans to remove any semblance of clarity in what is being delivered. Thus the objective (sorry, ‘deliverable’) of an expense reporting system, with simple functions such as the ability to enter and approve expenses, could be turned into a ‘system for simplification of workflow to control costs’ immediately creating a situation where implementation of the said system can be neither completed nor assessed for success.

Just imagine the extension of this corporate style to your every day activities. What is the deliverable for the plumber who fixes your leaking pipe? Eliminate discharge of water from the pipes other than at permissible outlets? Or, say, for your hairdresser – achieve a ratio of 1:3 between the amount of hair remaining versus the original quantum?

The next time you sit in a restaurant, waiting for food to be served, try and define the deliverable for the waiter (other than, of course, the actual items of food ordered). The fun is endless.