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How Stress Can Lead to Crisis – an organisational story

How Stress Can Lead to Crisis

In this article I explore how stress in one person can lead to a crisis within an organisation, it’s client base and beyond. I share with you not only how it happened but what could have been done to avert the crisis too.

I have known a particular person for many years.  He’s the MD of a company providing a high-end product that allows his customers to provide a service to their own customers.  I know him to be sensitive, a little pedantic and honourable.  I am a customer of his and have spent easily five figures with his company.

But the person I know changed significantly during a time of extreme stress.

The Background to the Crisis

His company released a new version of their software.  They were extremely excited, as most tech companies would be when they finally release something they have been working on for so long and which they fully expect to be well received by their customers.

There was a big build-up to the release and we were all to download the new version with a warning of dire consequences if we didn’t. This meant everyone was downloading at the same time.  Unexpectedly for them and predictably for me (I used to work in the IT industry so I know what happens in a product launch) there were huge problems.  This affected their customers’ ability to provide a proper service to their own customers so I am sure their helplines were burning red with activity.

It’s Not What Happens but How you Deal with it

The way they dealt with it was breathtakingly bad.  The MD: this sensitive, pedantic but honourable man seemed to be the only one he trusted to provide support. His sensitivity was for himself and he had lost sight of what he was trying to achieve for his customers.

When I reached out he testily referred me to the large collection of help videos online.  At first I didn’t have access.  He was enraged by me rather than wanting to fix the problem of access. He simply kept repeating that I watch the videos I didn’t have.   When I eventually did gain access days later (with no explanation or apology), I noted there were nearly 30 videos, all unlabelled so it was impossible to know which video contained the information I needed.

Any request for assistance was met with an extremely harsh, blunt and, finally, insulting response.  And no help at all.  Even access to the Facebook support group was withdrawn.  I don’t know if this is because he felt embarrassed by the open discussion of the problem on the group.  Apparently I heard that others were blocked.  So, longstanding customers were left adrift.  Completely.

I was very shocked and had to find a very circuitous route to solve the problem that didn’t involve his organisation.  But it got me wondering how a situation could so rapidly decline to such a degree and here are the factors I believe were involved:

How Stress can Lead to a Crisis – An Analysis

  1. A foundation of hard work rewarded by the eventual excitement of the product launch, probably not adequately tested before launch
  2. The rapid realisation that the product was causing more problems than they knew how to deal with and the disappointment and embarrassment that created
  3. An “away-from” motivation which meant that avoidance was the primary driver
  4. The people-pleasing tendency completely overridden by the need to avoid. The decision to keep their Facebook page free from any technical requests to solve the problem would save face and avoid more work. However, instead it increased tensions. Problems exacerbated. And this caused a flurry of inter-customer conversations. People want to know what’s going on and how to fix their own problems, especially given there was no co-operation of the organisation themselves
  5. A sensitive nature created an unhelpful distortion of facts. He saw requests for help as criticism of his project. It also caused him to focus only on his own experience and not the impact of his actions and non-actions on others. A typical fight/flight response.
  6. This fight-flight response significantly amplified which impaired his ability to calm heightened emotions and logically plan a damage-limitation response
  7. Pride getting in the way of an apology which would have kept more of his customers onside
  8. An unwillingness to delegate which led to huge overwhelm
  9. A tendency to hire people in his own image which means that they all have an uncomfortable blend of a need to please combined with an avoidance of problems – charming but unhelpful in a crisis
  10. A strong desire for external validation – needing positive feedback to srengthen self-esteem

Of course, who he is fundamentally hasn’t changed. But this series of events caused him to react so strongly that his values were suspended for some considerable time until the situation calmed and he could resume his position as benign managing director as if nothing had happened.  Except his customers are unlikely to forget how they were treated:  stranded, unable to provide their services to their own customers.  And unlikely to recommend his organisation to others.

A more positive approach

What could he have done differently?  Hindsight is useful – we learn from experience.  But hopefully by reading this, you will learn in advance of such a negative experience to protect you in similar circumstances in the future.  This is my six-point plan that would have helped him and his customers and to safeguard the reputation of his business:

  1. Immediately tell customers there is a problem and they are working to resolve it. This lets people know you care and you are on the case.  Email and the Facebook group are easy options for this.
  2. Delegate support to his team. Nobody can do it all themselves.
  3. Produce quick how-to videos on the common sources of the problem and send these out to people. If you haven’t got access to the videos it is pointless having them.  Labelling and indexing the videos is even better.  Nobody has time to look through 10 hours of video to find the 3 minutes they need.
  4. Regular updates to customers to, and I know I’m repeating myself, show you care and that you are on the case.
  5. A fulsome and genuine apology. There is nothing like a genuine apology to build bridges and limit damage.
  6. Most importantly, not to take anything personally but to learn from the situation so that the experience is not wasted.

This would have created far less internal stress for him and his team and, perhaps more importantly, for his customers. Learning from experience helps an individual and a business enjoy continuous improvement

Escalation or Deceleration? It’s a choice

Often, problems don’t go away for lack of attention, they simply escalate, and sometimes, as in this case, out of control.

I am sure this story resonates with many of you. I do hope you found the alternative approach helpful. If you would like additional support do call 0345 130 0854 to find out how.

If this has been interesting for you, you might also like these:

Stress: avoidance, prevention or cure.

Stress Resilience in a Chaotic World

(C) Tricia Woolfrey

#stress #crisis #stressresponse