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Is Your Team Addicted to Crisis?

Is Your Team Addicted to Crisis?

Well-run businesses can be boring. They don’t experience frequent crises and they don’t encounter surprises at every turn. Why? Because the leaders understand risk, and they plan accordingly, avoiding the majority of disasters that other companies are routinely forced to face. 

As you may know, I started my career in IT, well before this was a cool thing to do. Back then we weren’t coders, we were software developers. And originally I started there and then became a project manager. 

My first executive role was as Chief Information Officer in an ASX top 50 listed mining company. During those formative years of my career, I saw many of the crises that typically hit organizations through their IT systems: cyber attacks, infrastructure failure, data corruption, and project delays.

While all of these are eminently avoidable, they require long-term planning, smart investment, and a commitment to take preventative action, not waiting until something breaks before you even realize that there’s a risk exposure there.

When you’re trying to explain a risk to the business, and the business is cash constrained, the first things that get cut from the annual budget are the things that reduce risk.Why? Because they may never happen.

Everyone ignores the risk, and waits for the crisis, then moves swiftly to fix the problem. But waiting for the failure is way more stressful and significantly more expensive than managing a risk proactively. 

I know it’s virtually impossible to preempt all of the permutations and combinations of potential failure, but it is achievable to identify and mitigate the most significant risks that your company faces. And this is where we need to focus our leadership energy.

But we’re prone to overlooking one very important fact; crises can be addictive.

Let’s unravel the DNA of a common crisis. Something goes wrong, requiring dedicated focus and attention to fix. People feel important and valued as they spring into action. They work intensively and they work tirelessly to resolve the issue and get things back to normal. 

At the end, everyone collapses, exhausted from the relatively short burst of effort, congratulating themselves on a job well done. And we haven’t even got to the good bit yet. 

That’s when the leadership swoops in and praises everyone for resolving the crisis. “We have such a great culture. We always get the job done. We go above and beyond“. That’s such bullshit. This feedback loop rewards all the wrong things. People become addicted to the adrenaline rush, the kudos, and the challenge of a crisis. 

And it’s probably not too cynical to mention the overtime payments that accompany the additional effort in many companies.

Once this becomes the predominant culture, people become comfortable living in a break, fix cycle. In between the inevitable system failures, they catch their breath and relax, taking the opportunity to rest up until the next disaster strikes. 

There’s never any real focus on eliminating the root cause of the problem. And there’s no leadership drive to reduce the risk that something might fail in the first place. This is a bit like covering a melanoma with a band-aid.

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