Crisis is defined as a condition that is inherently unstable or dangerous. The term may be applied in almost any sector of society, including economics and politics. In medical terms, a crisis occurs when there is some specific change in condition. In theater, the stage crisis occurs when the opposing parties have reached a certain level of tension. The word’s basis dates back to Greek and Latin, with the original meaning of “decision” or making a judgment.
Many who deal with crisis management each day find the word’s origin particularly applicable, because when a situation is recognized as a crisis, someone must make a decision to deal with it. Even if that person or group does not decide, a decision has been made to let matters continue in the current direction.
Along with this definition of a single event or condition, a crisis may also be ongoing, in that a string of actions or events leads to a certain point in the future.
Many managers and business owners attempt to prevent crisis, either single event or series of events, by managing operations carefully. Numerous plans are put in place specifically to prepare for a crisis that may occur.
But what about managing in a situation that, by definition, is a crisis? What if the company has put together a detailed crisis-management plan that spells out exactly what each person is to do in a certain situation, then that same situation occurs? Will following the plan count as crisis management?
Will those in supervisory positions actually follow listed steps to identify what is happening, then work to keep problems to a minimum? Does crisis management include the process of rebuilding a smooth operation after the period of crisis is over?
First, the management personnel must identify the crisis by declaring that there is a threat to the company. In this identification, some authorities on the subject insist that management must also admit to being surprised. Some look at this latter element with a sense of humor, noting that the person responsible will plead surprise as a way to cover his backside.
Perhaps the most critical element of a crisis, which by definition requires a decision, is the short amount of time available in which to make correct decisions. Successful crisis management means correctly assessing a situation, admitting what the issues are, then taking steps to understand and correct the issues, in detail!
In the 21st century, crisis has increasingly had technology and electronics at its heart. Breakdowns in communication because of physical failure in a circuit can be a crippling event for a large corporation, one that plainly fits the definition of crisis. But business-process experts differentiate crisis management from managing an emergency that might last only a few minutes, just as they separate crisis management from long-term management of business problems. These analysts would say that managing an incident is not the same as managing a true crisis that threatens the very existence of a business entity.
In sum, crisis management may well mean a managing a situation that is so ingrained in the business process that it takes extraordinary measures to set things right. A smart manager might start by asking, “What would my crisis be?”