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Your crisis management playbook: What to do when the worst happens

Brian P. Watson | Sept. 14, 2017
Dana Deasy has faced more calamities over the course of his career than practically any CIO. Here’s his advice for tackling the worst of crises.


5 steps for leading through crisis

When crises do occur, Deasy offered the following steps for CIOs:

1. Focus on the problem at hand. IT leaders must communicate with their C-suite colleagues and board members. “Absolute transparency,” Deasy recommends. “Here’s what we know, and here’s everything we don’t know.” But they must balance that with the importance of remediating the problem. Solve the problem first, then go after the root cause(s).

2. Lead from the front. A mentor of Deasy’s from Rockwell once told him, “When something goes terribly wrong, it’s how you show up at the beginning that sets the tone.” If leaders are scattered and constantly changing directions, the team will respond with similar disarray. But if CIOs remain poised and calm—despite maybe churning on the inside—“it’s amazing how quickly people will get focused,” Deasy said.

3. Understand your own limitations. “Be very clear to yourself and your team that you’re not the smartest person in the room,” Deasy suggests. Teams expect leaders to maintain their composure, but also to ask the right questions and bring the right people into the room. But they err when they think they have all the answers. “Sometimes people find themselves in the middle of a crisis and because they’re the senior person in the room, they feel that they need to carry all the expertise,” Deasy added.  

4. Seek solutions from all players. Even if you have truly put the right people in the right roles, don’t limit them to those responsibilities when a crisis occurs. When leaders break down those silos, and respect the knowledge of their teams, they can find the right answers—sometimes from the least likely sources. “If you put constraints and people think they’re coming to a crisis and have to work their role, you have a huge miss,” Deasy said.

5. Balance people and priorities. Often times when a crisis occurs, everyone wants to work on it. But IT leaders must be careful to ensure that day-to-day operations continue through the crisis. At the same time, team members can burn out when dealing with a protracted crisis situation. “You have to be cognizant that the human mind and physical stamina only go so far,” Deasy said. “How do you ensure that, as people are getting ready to take a break, that you’re actually creating continuity” in cycling in other employees?


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