Crisis Management: The 3-option Approach to Crisis Management: Crisis decision-making
How do you tackle a challenging situation when almost every solution has its own set of problems? In these cases of myriad shades of gray consider a 3-option approach. This is an old but powerful idea.
When a U.S. Marine faces an unexpected adversity for which he has not trained, he is encouraged to develop rapidly three options, choose one, and act. The same applies to crisis management. Draft three dramatically different avenues of attack. Then select the preferable option with at least three questions in mind: 1) Which option best accomplishes your goal? 2) Which option has the potential for the fewest number of unintended consequences? 3) What’s the worst that could happen for each option and could you live with that outcome?
That is the approach I have taken in writing here about a controversy in my home of Winston-Salem, NC, in which I am NOT involved. If you live outside of the area, focus on the process rather than the details.
Winston-Salem’s new baseball park sits unfinished and idle even as the Winston-Salem Journal quotes a report saying 2/3 of the planned $38 million investment including $12 million from taxpayers is spent. One subcontractor is owed $84,000. Meantime, the Dash plays in its old, sold stadium. Anxiety builds in city hall and there is a whiff of “white elephant” in the air.
The reported reason for the months delay is that co-owner Billy Prim is trying to buy out his partner and brother-in-law Flip Filipowski in a process said to be complicated by the poor economy and personal issues.
Messrs. Prim and Filipowski are wildly successful entrepreneurs who I think most would say have demonstrated a genuine affection for the region’s best interests. I have met both and believe them honorable. But their reputations and the city’s are on the cusp of being tarnished. What should these two gentlemen do? Here are three options:
Say nothing. The upside is that delicate negotiations can possibly be resolved without public animosity or embarrassment: especially if an agreement is reached soon and construction resumes. The downside is what is happening now: information vacuum, stalled park, unfulfilled promises, and disrupted community enthusiasm. The good names of Prim and Filipowski lose luster and credibility. Worst case, elected officials ultimately feel compelled to act – read lawsuit – to protect public investment.
Say something. The upside is that Prim and/or Filipowski tell the public, perhaps through a carefully worded statement, the broad strokes of what is transpiring, why the project’s dragging and when construction will likely resume. Everyone should get some breathing room and most of the threats in the previous paragraph can be held at bay. The downside is that the co-owners will have to let in some sunshine and maybe expose private dirty laundry that is not of public concern or interest. It also might trip negotiations if one side does not want to make any of it freely available.
Say more. This is the all-in strategy. Neither Prim nor Filipowski is a shrinking violet. They call a joint press conference that begins with written and verbal statements explaining the situation and continues with their answering questions until reporters leave. The upside is that this blows open the doors on any remaining mystery and lays the cards on the table. The public finally understands the standoff, delays, and the safety of its substantial investment. If, for example, the financing of the ballpark is becoming dicey then at least everyone will have been straightforward and perhaps solutions can be found. The downside is obvious. Everything is on the table. Personal finances and relationships might be threatened and liabilities created because of public disclosure. It’s all or nothing.
These options are a thought experiment I offer Prim and Filipowski. Only they can flesh out the pros and cons of say nothing, say something or say more, and choose a course of maximum benefit. Also, being experienced business operators, they know that no decision IS a decision and inertia continues. We bystanders don’t know enough to judge.
There’s one final nagging concern about this mired venture that, if completed, still could energize downtown Winston-Salem.
In my experience failure to calm public concern sometimes signals a serious core problem. I sincerely hope for all involved that is not the case.