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Crisis at work? Try the SLLR method

Yati Doshi | February 06, 2006

How do you respond to a crisis at work?

Do you get nervous?

Do you see yourself getting fired for taking the wrong decisions?

Are you overconfident and end up biting off more than you can chew?

The most challenging part of any crisis is having the right attitude and reacting quickly in the right manner.

Shirley D'Souza*, 27, a customer service agent with call centre Services Global, received a call from a customer in the UK. He went on to make several indecent propositions and would call back every time she hung up. It was traumatic for Shirley, as the customer was being very graphic in his phone calls. The temptation to answer back was very strong.

She informed her team leader, who ultimately took the call. As per the guidelines laid down by the company, Shirley did not accept any more calls from that number.

Crisis management policy

A crisis can happen any time, and the manner in which you are supposed to handle it differs from company to company.

What you need to do is find the answers to the following questions:

i. Has your organisation clearly identified circumstances that can be defined as an emergency or crisis?

ii. Is there a clear line of command and responsibility? What this means is: Are there any rules about whom you must report to when there is a problem, or a hierarchy that needs to be adhered to?

iii. Is there a specific person who is in charge of handling the crisis, or a specific procedure that needs to be followed?

Most fair-sized professional companies have a plan in place, all you need to do is remember it and follow it.

Take the case of Raviraj D, 24, a marketing manager with a well-known Internet Service Provider that was in charge of organising exams at various centres around Mumbai's western suburbs. The night before the exams, one of the franchisees made unreasonable demands. The franchisee said if Raviraj did not comply with its demands, it would not allow the exams to be conducted at its centre.

The company policy was very clear on this issue: No giving in to any pressure.

Raviraj organised another centre overnight and had people waiting to guide the candidates to the alternate centre. He could take such prompt action because the company had a well-defined policy when it came to dealing with such an issue -- all he had to do was to follow the procedure.  

The SLLR method

The problem arises when the line of action that needs to be followed in a crisis is not clearly indicated. A popular management tool, taught in many B-Schools, is the SLLR method.

This is pretty simple actually. It is one of the ways to deal with a crisis situation, and is also one of the methods employed by a company to deal with such a situation.

SLLR stands for Stop, Look, Listen and Respond.

Stop

Avoid knee-jerk reactions. Keep a cool head. When you react without assessing the situation, things almost invariably get worse. Don't panic. THINK before rushing in to make everything right.

Look
 
A crisis involves people, situations, objects, etc. Consider all sides of the problem. All this will give you clues that will lead towards managing the crisis successfully.

The time spent on this part of the exercise depends on the urgency. For example, if there is a fire, you do not spend time figuring the hows and whys of the situation. You focus on putting it out.

But if there is an altercation between colleagues, or between an employee and a customer, do try finding out a bit of the background before jumping in.

Listen
 
Hear everyone out. Often, this is the best way to figure why the crisis happened in the first place. A good way to to do this is to identify neutral people and speak to them as well as to the affected/ involved people -- this will give you a well-rounded and factual take on the situation.

Respond
 
This step should ideally come after the first three steps. But, more often than not, we react first and then Stop, Look and Listen. It is very important to choose the best response; the best response often comes after you Stop, Look and Listen.

Watch the head honchos at work

Try and watch how the head honchos handle a crisis. Cadbury's is a case in point.

They faced a controversy that started when a batch of chocolates were found to be infested with worms. This was a company that had always prided itself on its squeaky clean image. Bharat Puri, managing director, Cadbury India, and Sanjay Purohit, head, marketing, Cadbury India, handled the situation well. 

The company immediately stopped sales, changed the packaging and came back with a bang, using none other than Amitabh Bachchan as their spokesperson. 

According to Cadbury's, the consumers have long forgotten the controversy.

Are you in BIG trouble?

Another important aspect in handling the crisis is knowing when trouble becomes BIG trouble. At what point should you bring in the big guns?

When things are out of your range of supervision, it is okay to call in your superiors. Who to call in depends on the crisis and its accompanying repercussions and the time frame; to put it simply, it would depend on the level of emergency. But if there is a threat of lasting damage or major losses, then it is time to call in the top brass as well.

Be careful you don't do it in a way that your immediate superior feels you have gone above him/ her; once things go back to normal, you have to continue dealing with your immediate supervisor.

The most important thing to remember while handling any crisis situation is to take a deep breath, think before acting and rise to the challenge.

* Names changed on request. 

Yati Doshi is a corporate trainer based in Mumbai. She has eight years of experience in the corporate arena and two years of experience in training.

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