About the Crisis Leadership Forum

To better understand the leadership dimensions of crisis situations, the Center for Creative Leadership convened a forum with formal and emergent leaders who played a role in Hurricane Katrina. We overlaid this conversation between crisis leaders with the perspectives of discussants with expertise in disaster, terrorism, public health, and leadership. This blog site is intended to continue this conversation.

To read the report on the Crisis Leadership Forum, please click here.

To read CCL's Leading Effectively newsletter on the Forum, please click here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Resilient Organizations Know How to Improvise

Why do some organizations bounce back after hard times and others don’t? According to a recent Harvard Business Review article written by Diane Coutu, there are three important characteristics that underpin resiliency in an individual or organization. Resilient people and organizations have a clear view of reality, find meaning in hardship, and they know how to improvise.

“Inventive tinkerers, resilient organizations use whatever’s handy to overcome hardship. They improvise solutions without obvious tools and imagine possibilities where others are confounded,” writes Diane Coutu.

Coutu uses the example of how USP was able to deliver packages to residents just one day after Hurricane Andrew devastated southeastern Florida in 1992. UPS’s ability to effectively respond under extraordinary circumstance can be attributed to their commitment to empower employees to improvise and do whatever it takes to deliver packages on time.

The ability to improvise was one of the resounding themes during the discussion at the Crisis Leadership Forum in 2007.

"The day after the storm, we realized that 98 percent of our plans weren't any good," said Joe Spraggins, director of emergency management for Harrison County, Mississippi, whose first official day on the job was the day Katrina hit. It was as if "an atomic bomb hit the Gulf of Mexico," said Spraggins. "This was something that had to be dealt with in a different manner."

Leaders and experts at the forum agreed that crisis response, regardless of size or scope, requires both planning and improvising. Planning and preparation helps enable rapid coordinated action; at the same time plans are always insufficient. A plan is a starting point, but every situation will involve something unexpected. Logic and imagination cannot factor in every contingency. People need the capacity to read and understand a situation and improvise their approach as the reality unfolds. To learn more about improvising when plans fail, click here.

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