Keep Calm and Brainstorm

By Ragan Cohn posted 03-03-2020 10:42

We’ve all been there. Things are humming along, going well – maybe even exceeding-all-expectations-well – and then it happens. The unexpected occurs. Progress screeches to a halt. The success of the endeavor -- and maybe even all the decisions you’ve made and time you’ve already invested – are all suddenly called into question.

Those moments, however painful they may be, are often the ones that define us. Those are the moments when we have the choice: do we go back? Or do we go forward? Do we embrace the challenge, engage others, and invite new creative solutions? Or do we retreat to the familiar and return to the status quo? Sometimes, especially in technical implementations, “going back” is exactly the right thing to do, and that is not inherently bad. But even in those cases, I would argue there’s the opportunity to make that decision either out of courage or out of fear.

I’ve been at the helm of OATUG for only 18 months, and even in that relatively short time there’ve been many of these moments that have tested the mettle of me, of my team and even that of the board. In fact, we’re in the midst of one right now. It’s March 3, 2020, four days out from the “early bird” registration deadline for COLLABORATE 20. We’re faced with the challenge of marketing an event that will require travel at a time when many may be making the determination to remain home. (Yes, COLLABORATE is still on!)

So how to navigate through times of crisis? Here are my thoughts. I’d love to hear yours in comments here or in The Hub!

  1. Ground yourself and those in your circle in facts. Nothing spreads faster than bad news, and the accuracy of that news often deteriorates with each telling. Establish the facts, keep those facts updated during evolving situations, and make sure those responsible for addressing the situation are operating from solid information.

  2. Acknowledge the things you can’t control, and then focus on the things you can. When there are factors beyond your control at play (and there always are!), acknowledge them. Let people get the “if-onlys” out of their systems early and quickly. Then move on. Progress is served by capitalizing on the factors you can control or at least influence. Keep calm and brainstorm! Go back to the beginning: What were the original aims of the endeavor? How could you still accomplish some or all of those aims through different means or in a different timeframe? Lay out all the options! Then let your original aims be your compass as you identify the top few that deserve the deeper dive. You just might be surprised by ideas that are actually better than “Plan A.” Quash tendencies to place blame and keep yourself and those around you focused on moving forward.

  3. Communicate concisely, clearly and with a regular cadence. Prove yourself to be a reliable source of clear information and updates throughout the crisis or “problem solving opportunity.” Don’t leave others wondering and waiting. If a higher up is asking you for a progress report, you’re already behind. Communication is always key; silence will be filled. You want to be the one filling it.

  4. Be a source of constancy, composure and confidence. Whether you’re leading from the front or from the back, when things go sideways others will look to and appreciate those who stay cool under pressure. Be one of those people.

  5. Take time to celebrate the victories and learn from the failures. Along the way and certainly once the crisis has passed, there are lessons to be learned. It’s all too easy to just move on to the next thing. It’s critically important, though, for the health of the team and future projects that you take the time to both document and celebrate the things that went well and to discuss and debrief the things that didn’t. That’s how we turn failures into launch pads for future success.

Whether the crisis is a high-profile data security breach, a major strategic initiative gone off the rails, a significant break in your supply chain, or the unpredictable infestation of a virus (computer or otherwise), challenges will come. The good news is, some of your best ideas and biggest wins just might emerge on the other side.

About the Author

Ragan_CohnRagan Cohn, CAE, is the OATUG Executive Director. Ragan joined OATUG in 2018, with a breadth of experience in strategic planning, policy administration, meeting facilitation, communications strategy, volunteer management and board development.

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