Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. To a pilot in trouble, following this simple phrase can mean the difference between life or death. Early on in a pilots training they are taught this phrase. It is so basic, yet so critical that it comes to mind throughout a flying career whenever trouble arises. While a I realize that business crisis management is usually not a life or death proposition, how a crisis is managed can have a profound impact on your company's bottom line, customer relationships and in some cases the very survival of your business. If business people took the phrase aviate, navigate, communicate and made it their own, it could be used to develop a framework to manage and resolve both simple and complex problems.
Aviate: When flying a pilot has to always maintain positive control of the aircraft. A common reason that minor failures (a malfunctioning warning light for example) have led to catastrophic accidents is due to a phenomenon called fixation. The crew becomes so engrossed by the perceived problem, that no one is actively flying the aircraft any longer. This can happen in business as well. Make sure that you delegate someone or a team if need be to work on the problem, but make sure that your business does not become engrossed by the problem. Someone still needs to be running the company and making sure that the major responsibilities of the business are still being met.
Navigate: The next step in the aviation emergency management process is to navigate. Know where you are, know the terrain around and below you. It makes no sense to lose situational awareness and fly into the side of a mountain while working on a minor problem. This is the same in business. Make sure you are still staying on path, navigating a clear path forward through the business crisis, while navigating around other business risks that might present themselves. Make sure you have a clear picture of what your destination looks like when exiting your current crisis as well.
Communicate: The third step in the aviation crisis management process is to communicate. A pilot will communicate with all of their crew members, air traffic control (ATC), their company and of course their passengers. While the type of communication will vary with each group, it is important to be clear, concise and communicate all necessary details. This process also can help further shape how the emergency is handled and can provide additional options. In business these groups might be investors, government, employees, clients and the general public. It is important to maintain open lines of communications and if possible be as transparent as possible.
In today's hyper connected world, the final step in the process has become the most important when looked at as a why to shape business crisis management. Letting all of your stakeholders know you are aware that a problem exists, and you are working actively to find a solution is critical. In some cases frequent updates via social media and other channels are now the norm. People want to know that their concerns are being heard. The old model of ignoring problems till they go away, just won't work, countless brands such as Domino's and United Airlines have found out the hard way that you can no longer control the flow of information. You can however take a proactive role in shaping it, by maintaining transparency and actively working to communicate with your audience that you are aware that a problem exists, that you care about their concerns, you are apologetic (I know all you lawyers types will disagree, but an apology does not imply legal guilt, only empathy) and are working toward a solution.
By following these steps you should be able to craft a successful business crisis management plan, and hopefully reach smooth skies before too long.