A great example of how to manage in a crisis was shown in the way that Tony Fernandes handled the crash of Air Asia flight Qz8501 in December 2014.
Fernandes built his company from the ground up with a set of principles that he has consistently applied as his company has grown.
He seems to genuinely care about his staff and his customers and makes a point of trying to meet and communicate with as many of them as he can reasonably manage. He gets out and meets his staff, from the pilots right down to the guys on the check-in desks and has been known to get in and work alongside his baggage handlers. If you’ve seen any videos of this, he carries it off in a very engaging way.
So while I’m certain that Fernandes was genuinely devastated by the Air Asia flight QZ8501 crash, the accident showcased his ability to manage brilliantly in the middle of a crisis. All of his moves were very sound and the way he went about communicating was excellent.
He made a decision to immediately fly to the point of departure of the downed aircraft and communicated immediately and often to customers and staff through social media and via the briefing rooms he made sure were set up. His tweets and press conferences were very engaging and full of empathy, a man speaking it would seem from the heart rather than a corporate information machine. If you trawl through Air Asia’s Facebook page, another aspect that stands out is that when mistakes are made, and in this scale of operation they will be, rather than churn out excuses, an immediate apology is made and a solution sought.
Most importantly Fernandes remained calm and considered and true to his principles in the midst of a huge crisis. His reputation has only been enhanced by the way that he and his Air Asia team have handled the aftermath of this crash.
What can you learn from this?
If you are managing projects, then sooner or later you are going to find yourself in the middle of a crisis and there is a lot that you can learn about how to manage in a crisis, from the way that Tony Fernandes and Air Asia have handled this so far.
For a start, get some perspective. Take a mental step back and think about someone like Tony. Whatever mess you’re in, there simply is no comparison with what he had to cope with in this situation.
At the point of crisis, with your project falling apart around you and all sorts of pressure being applied by senior managers, customers etc., the main thing you can learn is to stay calm and considered.
Stop worrying about whose fault it is and realise that while it may only be temporary, your role has changed from Project Manager to Crisis Manager, giving you a chance to show how good you can be at managing a crisis.
Too many people get dragged down by feelings of guilt and failure, when something that they are responsible for goes horribly wrong, and fail to see the opportunity before them to shine as someone who can manage in a crisis.
The chances are that to get to a crisis situation, you and your team have made some mistakes. Accept everyone makes mistakes, go easy on the excuses, apologise and then tell your team that you want solutions, not excuses.
Just like plane crashes, project failures inevitably happen, to even the best run projects and the best Project Managers.
If you can start to recover the situation, then you can begin to feel better about yourself and claw back lost pride and status. More than that, if like Tony Fernandes, you can get your team around you, in solid support, you can achieve remarkable things in crisis situations.
I know it’s hard, but try to see failure at work as an opportunity, not a personal disaster.
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Gren Gale is a consultant specialising in Project Management and Procurement and is owner of PM Results