Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Rethinking exit and entrance strategies 2: crisis as a transition demanding challenge 1

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on September 23, 2015

This is my second installment to a series that offers a general discussion of business transitions, where an organization exits one developmental stage or period of relative strategic and operational stability, to enter a fundamentally different next one (see Part 1.)

I began this series with a more general and I add abstractly presented discussion of what business transitions are, citing earlier postings and series where I have at least touched upon parts of this complex of issues and processes. And in that regard, I note that until this series, I have primarily focused on the first half of these transitions and on what is being exited out of – and not on the entrance side of what is being transitioned into next.

My goal for this posting is to at least begin to widen my scope of discussion of:

• The range and diversity of transitions that take place in businesses,
• And to more fully discuss what is being transitioned into in these processes.
• And I begin that by in effect jumping into deep water, with transitions that are driven by the sudden and even unpredictable emergence of true crisis, and as matters of extreme urgency. I wrote in my opening paragraph to this posting, of transitions as processes where “an organization exits one developmental stage or period of relative strategic and operational stability, to enter a fundamentally different next one.” Here that means a business that was operating stably and effectively, collapsing into challenge and disorder and having to find its way back to a new operational stability out of that.
• Many and even most transitions are predictable and are subject to long term pre-planning and preparation. They are even intentionally built toward.
• True crises usually arrive suddenly and without real warning, and certainly for when they would occur and for their specific “this-instance” details.
• And that holds as much for the eruption of crises that are at least in principle predictable as to generic type as it does for those that could not possibly be anticipated as possibilities and in any way.

Just considering what in retrospect would seem to have been potentially predictable crises, that no one happened to have effectively thought through anyway:

• A general form or type of crisis might be predictable as an at least abstract possibility that might arise in some vague “someday” timeframe. That approach informs most anticipatory crisis contingency planning.
• But as the old saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” And when actual event details are not going to be predictable, as to how one of these potentialities would actually arise and play out, abstract planning for them might not in fact offer much specific value in addressing them.

I mentioned the challenges of preparatory crisis management planning in passing in Part 1 of this series and raise that specter again here, thinking back to shelves full of contingency planning exercises that I have seen. And each of these thick multi-authored reports, carefully thought through and assembled by their respective planning committees, primarily just come to gather dust on those book shelves and even if a crisis of the type they sought to address were to actually arise. That is partly because few if any of the people facing this actual here-and-now challenge will have ever seen let alone read any of these reports. But even if they have, this is because contingency planning can become obsolete very rapidly as key personnel move on and as resources necessary to the original planning are changed and changed again. Their Who and How and Why details with all of that laid out according to a once carefully considered timetable all become obsolete, rendering them moot, and for being outdated and for being irrelevant to the precise details of the actual challenge at hand. And I admit that I have helped develop anticipatory planning initiatives of this type and I have contributed significant volumes of text to at least a few of these crisis planning efforts too.

The one, and to my thinking, only reliable long-term value that these planning and writing efforts can be expected to provide is to bring together at least some of if not many of the key people who will need to come together and work together, if and when an actual crisis arises, and if not always at a hands-on task completion level then at least (with some likely gaps) at a more senior management level and for the people who would have to approve any change to “normal operating procedure”. Portions of operational details of these old prepared solutions might in fact be helpful and even essentially so, but that can be more serendipitous than anything else and particularly for any such planning that has reached any significant age since it was initially prepared. But the process of developing these planning exercises can create essential communications lines, for dealing with all of those unexpected and unpredicted details that any attempt at detailed advance planning would not foresee.

And with that noted, let’s consider crises themselves. And I begin that with a basic, fundamental question:

• What goes into making an unexpected and potentially serious adverse development, into a true crisis?

When a crisis erupts, and you see its consequences spreading out in seemingly all directions it can easily seem to be generalized and multi-focused in origin. Operationally coming to understand a crisis, and in terms that make it more manageable and subject to specific resolution, means identifying the key points in a business and in its systems and processes where all of this causally starts, at least as this crisis impacts upon and enters into your business. And effective resolution to a crisis means identifying the precise points in a business’ operations and practices where specific corrective change would be needed, in order to find a working resolution to all of this.

The points I just raised there are important, and I add potentially lifesaving for a business in crisis. It is essentially impossible to effectively analytically understand, or respond to the vague and undefined of a general, overall problem. As soon as you can organize and prioritize what has happened and what is still continuing, and identify the key Where and How of that, you can begin to map out causality and priorities and you can begin to effective develop and implement working responses. You can point your relevant staff and managers at specific tasks to stop, to adjust or change, and to perform, and with specific outcomes in mind for each of them. And you can help set up any new communications channels that might now be needed, so your people can coordinately carry out all of this work.

• And operationalizing what has gone wrong and identifying at least some initial steps needed to correct that,
• Makes it possible to begin to strategically plan and operationalize where you want all of this crisis response effort to lead to,
• And that can help you plan out the details of your post-crisis goals: your next step entrance strategy and its goals.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will at least initially focus on single points of failure, and both as they can be identified and addressed in anticipatory planning, and as they emerge when crises actually arise. And in anticipation of that and referring back again to those dusty loose leaf notebooks:

• When contingency planning for possible crises identifies predictable single points of failure, and they are in fact addressed as a result,
• Those planning reports can become obsolete, because the precise crisis details they sought to address no longer apply – and because those older planning efforts have already succeeded.
• So when a new and different variation on the crisis they addressed does arise it is because of the emergence of new single points of failure or other collision points.

That is another source of value that these old planning efforts can yield – if that is, those identified potential single points of failure are actually, effectively addressed, that is.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory.

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