You are thinking about the busy workday ahead as your car inches forward in heavy morning traffic. An incoming call from the medical office building manager changes the trajectory of your day. Downed power lines from a heavy storm have forced the offices to close indefinitely. Water has seeped into the building. Now your thoughts shift to the patient load for the week, in-office procedures scheduled for the day, and communicating with staff heading into the office. How can you address the closure, property damage, system outages, and other unknown perils as quickly as possible?
Knowing how to manage a crisis may be the ultimate test of a great leader. It is a direct reflection of your professionalism and emotional intelligence. The COVID-19 public health emergency gifted many medical practice leaders with a crash course in crisis leadership. You might look back and think, “how could I have planned for that?” In the moment, you almost certainly relied on instincts and adrenalin. What did you learn and how will you incorporate it into future planning?
“An emergency is a moment in time,” said Heidi Wysocki, a crisis leadership expert, and cofounder of First Defense Solutions. “It could be a revenue restatement or adjustment, or a tornado that hits your office building. Suddenly, you’re dropping everything to deal with logistic issues where you can’t access your space. It could be that a water pipe bursts in your office building making it unsafe for your office to remain operational for a long period of time.
Leading through a crisis involves a range of management skills like forethought, grit, tenacity, emotional intelligence, professionalism, fast action, and more. When seconds count, having a plan for business disruptions will put you ahead of the game.
Heidi and her business partner Ed Pietrowski are on a mission to help leaders keep their workplace safe and sustainable before, during, and after a crisis. Their Plano, TX-based company began conducting crisis leadership training in January 2016 to help businesses redefine how they view security. They assert that learning how to lead during a crisis is the best way to handle emergencies and mitigate the fallout, and they have some important insights for medical office professionals to consider.
“Crisis leadership training prepares business leaders to address all aspects of an active threat so you can keep yourself and your team safe,” Heidi said. “Our goal is to change the trajectory of crises and save lives. So you can walk down the aisle with your child. So that today’s kids will be here tomorrow to cure cancer, build a city in space, write the next Great American Novel, or just be a great friend to someone who needs one. We want safer and more resilient communities; we have designed our business with these things in mind.”
Heidi says that planning for the unknown is about forethought and creating contingencies to help you move fast to minimize safety threats, and operational and reputation damages.
“Your publics –immediate and ancillary staff, patients, vendors: they all need to hear from you as soon as possible,” she said. “Bad news travels fast, so you want to get ahead of it to preserve these relationships.”
Organizational impacts may include poor decisions or bad press. A staffing issue could influence employee retention. Poor handling of a fragile issue like sexual harassment in the workplace could fuel a walkout. Trying to hire the right people during an economic downturn is tough, so leaders must carefully consider unique situations and how to handle them carefully. In times like this, knowing how to recover from a crisis is your most important skill to minimize what could be enormous damage to your team, patient trust, reputation the community, and much more.
“How a leader handles a crisis says a lot about their professionalism and emotional intelligence. Once a crisis has passed you’ve got to be able to reestablish credibility to satisfy your patients, group, and vendors,” she said. “Rebuilding a reputation can take a long time. Your patients may be concerned about putting their health in your hands, and your goal is to give them confidence that you’ll still be able to treat them in a manner that they’ve come to expect from you.”
Enroll in Heidi and Ed's recently-recorded learning session for more details on preparing for a crisis: before, during, and after a crisis.