“If I wasn’t a CIO,” says Joe Beery, CIO of US Airways, “I would probably be an ER doctor.”
Beery clearly thrives on stress. And at US Airways, he’s obviously in the right place, dealing with 3,742 daily departures, 36,602 employees and an extremely demanding, often agitated customer base. If you add to all that his ongoing challenge of integrating America West’s and US Airways’ computer systems after their late 2005 merger, Beery becomes a perfect person to ask about crisis management.
Having recently dealt with long lines and extensive travel delays caused by a troubled switch to a new computer reservations and ticketing system, Beery has some well-earned insights and advice on how to handle emergencies. His four best practices are:
1. Don’t abandon what you know. Go back to basics. An emergency is not the time to try something new. Make sure that you and your team execute on the blocking and tackling. The play doesn’t need to be pretty, but it definitely needs to work.
2. Lean on your partners and team. You know what they can do and you have to trust that they will rise to the occasion. A crisis is not the time to put a partner or vendor on notice. That time may come later, when everything is fixed. But during the crisis, you focus on fixing the problem while reminding yourself why you partnered up in the first place.
3. Lead, communicate and get into the field. This is not a time to disappear. Communicate more than you ever have; be clear in your communication and, if possible, do it face-to-face.
4. Deal with problems head-on. Be as realistic as possible about what the problem is, and be even more realistic about what it will take to fix it.
I think this is all pretty sound advice from someone who knows a thing or two about crisis management. One always hopes that issues like Katrina, 9/11, blackouts or systems meltdowns never occur, but in today’s business world you can’t rely on hope; you have to have a plan. As a wise man once told me, “Plan your work and work your plan.”