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5 Crisis Lessons the GOP Can Learn From Business

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The bad news for republicans: they are in crisis. The good news for their party: there's nothing like a high-profile meltdown to force an organization into positive change.

I am now well into my post-partisan life, therefore I bite my tongue on what ails the GOP politically, leaving that analysis to people like David Frum, whose book "Why Romney Lost" aptly lays out the ideological challenges confronting the party.

Instead, I choose to provide a few broader thoughts from my crisis management experience. Most corporations face a crisis at some point in their evolution, and rarely do they emerge the same organization. Some never recover but others come out of it stronger -- better.

It might serve the GOP to learn a bit from its friends in business if it hopes to regain its footing and compete in 2016:

1. Get Real: In defending the outcome of the election, Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for Karl Rove's Super PAC American Crossroads, attempted to spin the 2012 election outcome on MSNBC's The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd, by suggesting the election would have been a blowout for Obama had the PAC not invested millions in battleground state advertising.

I don't doubt that his analysis is true, but the election for president is a zero-sum-game, which makes picking winners and losers pretty easy -- it's not subjective.

In business, a CEO who loses a major contract that his company chased for four years, costing untold sums, knows better than to try and snow shareholders into believing that the money was well-spent.

If it really hopes to recover from its 2012 licking, the Republican Party must first be realistic about its current situation -- leaders must demand data, information, analyses that tells the whole story, even the parts they don't want to hear. When a company is in crisis, a good CEO will tell her senior team: Do not even think about coming into this office and BS'ing me. Period.

2. Soul-Search: Crises come in all shapes and sizes, but if there is one universal truth it is this: organizations learn what they are made of in times of adversity. If the GOP gets real, it's going to learn a lot about itself.

In order to climb out of this post-election hole, Republicans must determine through serious introspection whether or not they want to be a national brand, or if they're satisfied serving regional markets. In other words: What's the mission?

In the corporate world, companies face this kind of identity/market crisis all the time. They are forced to answer questions such as: Do we want to stick to what we are good at, even if the market is shrinking, or do we want to keep pace with consumer demands? There is nothing wrong with being a boutique, as long as a specialty shop is what your business strategy calls for.

Steve McKee, a business and marketing guru, wrote a book about this very issue, When Growth Stalls: How it Happens, Why You're Stuck, and What to Do About it. His book should be required reading for GOP leaders as it addresses for business the very issue facing the Republican Party: stagnate growth, or in this case shrinking marketshare.

3. Diversify Now: Don't confuse diversity with affirmative action. Companies that are gender and ethnically diverse are better equipped to manage any crisis.

It is fundamental: Diversity improves teams. In a crisis, the last thing you want is a single-planed leadership group; texture through diversity adds positive complexity to decision-making. A speedy response is important, but not at the risk of short-mindedness.

Understand that companies learn every day the difference between true diversity and tokenism. Great leaders, and great organizations, appoint individuals who have different perspectives but share the same values. Get them all rowing in the same direction and watch out. It's a very powerful thing and can make the difference between real success and disaster in a crisis situation.

4. Act Decisively: Diversity in the board room should not be an impediment to a quick, firm response in a time of crisis. Suspend the rules, allowing for a more streamlined response even if power is widely distributed within your organization. In other words, a plodding consensus-building approach to crisis management can kill an organization.

Companies streamline their procedures in crises without undercutting the authority of their diverse leadership team. Each of those individuals will play a role. In business, the companies that struggle most in crisis response are large partnerships because they're unwieldy, making them too slow to act. I imagine that this might be an obstacle hard to navigate for any large political organization, especially one of the two national parties.

I tell my clients that if it ordinarily takes you 15 steps to get a decision through your process, it's 11 steps too many in a crisis. There will be no shortage of opinions about what's next for the GOP, but if they allow all of those voices to play a role, the crisis outcome will not be a good one.

5. Be Authentic: Consumers are not moved by flimflam. One cannot sell a product that he or she doesn't believe in. P. T. Barnum was right that "there's a sucker born every minute" but a strategy built on winning the sucker market is a strategy doomed from the start.

Whatever strategy it settles on, the GOP must appoint leaders who can sells it product, with transparent authenticity. Putting forward a team that is reluctant to accept the strategy -- dragged to the mitigation plan against its will -- is a surefire path to continued failure.

Politics is big business. By any metric, the Republican Party was a bad investment in 2012 - making its crisis very real. If the GOP hopes to succeed it must respond to its current predicament with a real growth plan aimed at expanding its customer base, ergo its political base.