I’m dating myself here, but I used to love to watch the Andy Griffith Show. I liked Andy’s calm demeanor as he tried to raise his son Opie while dealing with Barney Fife, his neurotic sidekick. I especially enjoyed this exchange between the two of them as they discussed raising kids:
Barney: Well, today's eight-year-olds are tomorrow's teenagers. I say this calls for action and now. Nip it in the bud. First sign of youngsters going wrong, you've got to nip it in the bud.
Andy: I'm going to have a talk with them. What else do you want me to do?
Barney: Well, don't just mollycoddle them.
Andy: I won't.
Barney: Nip it. You go read any book you want on the subject of child discipline and you'll find every one of them is in favor of bud-nipping.
Nip it in the bud. In other words, deal with issues promptly and don’t let them linger. (Having raised a child or two, I’ll add the need for fair rules, love, and consistent treatment relative to the child and their behavior.) This bud-nipping does help to some extent as younger kids turn into teenagers, but you still get that kid that’s just an unpredictable tsunami regardless. However, for the most part it helps to have a plan with the younger ones so that when they get older the tsunamis aren’t devastating.
Apply this to incident management versus crisis management: incidents are like young kids and crisis events are like teenagers. Incidents are typically small events that routinely occur in running an organization. They could be safety-related, employee-related, or a manufacturing incident, depending on the type of organization. They’re usually not a big deal and are resolved fairly easily. Crises, on the other hand, are incidents that have gotten out of control. They’re bigger and oftentimes very nasty. Each crisis is unique, so we may not have all the details or information at the time on how to deal with them.
My point? Organizations need to spend more time putting solid incident management procedures in place – “bud-nipping” if you will -- to reduce the likelihood that incidents turn into crises. Here are three ways to do that:
- Keep it simple and consistent. Have a simple and consistent process for dealing with incidents. Make the process simple because on top of normal resolution procedures, you will also have unique incident types that will require different steps to resolve them. Simple incident resolution processes are more consistent and can be applied the same way. Simplicity also helps people better understand their roles in dealing with incidents.
- It takes a village. Just as the adage says “it takes a village to raise a child,” it also takes a village to handle incidents – and even more so if and when they become crisis events. Make sure your process for dealing with incidents includes the appropriate people, depending on the incident type. For example, if the incident is employee-related, include human resources. If the incident could result in public exposure, involve your public relations experts. And include them as needed, but sooner than later, which leads to my last point.
- Act quickly and early. If you’re going to make an assumption about incidents in general, assume any one incident has the potential to turn into a crisis and treat them accordingly. Some incidents are just a normal part of doing business, while others are more complex or subjective. For both types, keep in mind that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Act quickly and early to resolve them.
Now, having said this, there will still be those incidents that turn into full-scale crisis events -- just like regardless of doing all we can to raise well-behaved kids, those unruly teenagers can still pop up from time to time. You must have plans to deal with crises, too, but that’s the subject of another blog, or a book or two. The main point I wanted to make today, similar to Barney Fife’s approach to “nip it in the bud”, is to treat incidents that occur in the normal course of business seriously. Deal with them promptly and involve the right participants. For more interesting conversation, email me at Patrick.firstname.lastname@example.org.