What can we learn from the Toyota crisis?

A lesson in crisis management

We can all learn from Toyota’s current public relations disaster. It could happen to any one of our organizations. No one is immune from mistakes on a grand scale.

Successfully managing through costly and publicly-visible problems requires leaders to have a particular skill set and mind set. It’s called crisis management: the art of anticipating big problems before they happen so that you can handle them more effectively if and when they happen.

A willingness to address unpleasant truths. Sharpening your “crisis management” leadership skill set and organizational capability must be developed BEFORE the the proverbial poop hits the fan. Yet few companies “invest” in developing this organizational competency or training with their executive teams.

I found the following passage enlightening from a UK on-line magazine.

“The most effective crisis management takes place before the problem escalates out of control during the “incubation” phase. Some of the biggest potential crises have been identified and addressed before they ever escalated out of control: this is crisis management at its best. This requires an organisational culture that is vigilant for potential crises, has open lines of communication from staff to management, and a willingness to address unpleasant truths”. – Jonathan Hemus, guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 9 February 2010. Read the full article

An unforgettable experience. You only ever have to experience a crisis once to understand the importance of crisis management. It changes you in profound ways. It shows your character and your values, not to mention how well you can maintain your cool under extreme pressure. It can bring a team together in ways that no other business challenge can. It can also reveal other true leaders within the organization, those who perhaps fly under the radar screen and don’t have the fancy titles or authority, but have a natural proclivity to manage through crisis well. Yes, there is a gift in the crisis, if we choose to embrace it that way. It can make us personally and organizationally stronger. Our vulnerability, humility and willingness to learn makes us stronger.

Practice makes ready. They say that if it doesn’t kill us, it makes us stronger. Why not use the learning from our own business crises (and personal crises, for that matter) and the crisis experience of others, like Toyota, to shore up our weaknesses and round out our leadership skills and organizational capability. Perhaps as business leaders we should practice our crisis management skills regularly, like elementary school kids do with their fire drill rehearsals? We just need to think of all the potential “fires” our businesses may be susceptible to. Combustible problems comes in many different sizes and shapes.

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