Supervisory Leadership

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How do you plan for disasters and chaotic times?

There are disasters and crises you can plan for and there are some that will surprise you no matter how much planning you do. To survive and thrive in chaotic times, you must be aggressively realistic, plan effectively, execute your plan when necessary and then critique to lean from your experience.

There are things you can plan for. In hurricane country, you plan for hurricanes. If your business has a facility near a road or railroad track, you plan for the impact of accidents. If you deal with hazardous chemicals you plan for chemical spills. And everyone should plan for fires and crime.

There are also things you can plan for because they are cyclic. Bad economic times follow good.

Once you have a crisis plan, you need to be able to excite when the time comes. It does you no good to have a jack and spare tire in your car if you can't or won't use them when you have a flat. To make this happen the right folks need to be familiar enough with the plan and able to stay calm so they can execute it.

After the incident you need to critique. There are several things you look for.

Look for the black swans. Those are statistical outliers. You can't plan for them because you really can't anticipate them. Modifying your intelligence gathering won't stop black swans from appearing.

Look for missing elevators. In many of the predictions of what the Twentieth Century would be like, there were skyscrapers but no elevators. What things should you have anticipated, but didn't? How can you improve your planning and operations for the future?

Many business people don't think about event cascades. Those are sequences of events that lead to crisis. Some are black swans. Others are missing elevators.

Planning for this is mostly a "what if?" game. What if there's a hazmat spill on the highway? What will happen next? How will things be different at 4 AM and at 4 PM?

Finally, we need to resist the temptation to change organization and procedures for events we can't predict. We need to be flexible rather than perfect forecasters.

We are not destined to have a perfect view of the future. The world is to complex to model in detail. But we can do a much better job of anticipating the opportunities and threats that will come our way.

We can do a better job of planning. We can watch the cycles. We can spot trigger events better. We can plan for predictable event cascades.

We can do a better job of executing our plans. We can learn to be calm in crisis. We can use tools that help us do better.

Mostly, though, we need to be prepared but flexible. There's still a business to run and that has to happen every day, crisis or no.


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