Men experiencing contraction pains has proven popular in Jinan, China. In fact, Jinan Aima Maternity Hospital opened its “Pain Experience Camp” in November, and in a misguided attempt to show solidarity with their pregnant wives, more than 300 men have signed up to experience the electric shock meant to simulate the sensation of childbirth. The good men of Jinan have taken practice bleeding to an impressive level of nuttiness, but their well-intended show of support will do nothing to relieve their wives’ pain any more than organizational practice bleeding will counterbalance the pain of a crisis.
“Practice bleeding” is the term I use to describe the propensity to suffer before the pain begins. One should never confuse practice bleeding with planning, however. Planning for a crisis prepares the organization for likely emergencies; practice bleeding involves the misguided notion that if people practice how they will suffer, they will be better equipped to stand the menace—whatever it is.
In an ideal world, crisis management begins long before a crisis actually occurs—in a calm and objective environment in which no one is physically or metaphorically bleeding. It starts with a thorough audit of organizational risks—not a hand-wringing, floor-pacing attempt to control the future—and certainly not simulated labor pains. Understanding some of the major categories of risk can help you identify the types of crisis for which you should prepare. The nature of your business will determine your risks, but some universal perils exist:
- Natural disasters
- Product tampering
- Technical breakdowns
- Economic changes
- Aberrant employees
Preparing for these risks can make the difference between surviving them and thriving after them. Here’s what you can do:
- Monitor your cash. It is the lifeblood of any business. In most situations, cash is king. In crisis, it is more of a demanding emperor: not earnings per share, revenue growth or return on equity. Cash.
- Establish a crisis response team now. Which operations people, legal minds, marketing professionals and public relations experts will need to participate?
- Build relationships outside the organization that can help you when you falter.
- Know how to react to a crisis well before one occurs. Prepare a list of contact information for your key audience—shareholders, media, employees, the community, customers, elected officials, vendors—anyone you’d want to send accurate information to immediately.
- Make the learning from a failure visible. Rush to find the cause of the failure, but forget assigning blame.
- Create a list of the 10 worst things that could happen, evaluate the appropriate responses to the most likely ones, determine procedures to respond and designate a point person for each.
No one has ever gained from suffering before a tragedy. If the time comes to suffer, you’ll know how. Like rocking in a rocking chair, practice bleeding gives you something to do, allows you to pretend you’re doing something important and impresses people with your stoicism. But the activities associated with practice bleeding will neither prevent problems nor better train you to deal with them.
If the scientific minds in China had spent their time and resources developing some other medical technology instead of attempting to simulate childbirth, who knows what might have resulted? The new year promises both challenges and opportunities, but let’s make sure it doesn’t also tempt us to do well what should never be done in the first place.