Celebrity PA Bonnie Low Kramen explains how to plan for and deal with a crisis

CRISIS – A condition of instability or danger. Dramatic upheaval, the point at which something must change.

As administrative professionals, we know that there are degrees of crisis. There is your life and death crisis (such as the events of 9/11) and then there are every day crises such as flights being canceled or an important e-mail that was never read which results in 15 people arriving at the wrong location for a meeting.

Keeping cool in a crisis is about spending time planning for one. That is, it’s your job to run the “what ifs” and “worst-case scenarios” in your head and on paper and come up with a Plan B and even a Plan C in the event Plan A needs to be aborted. What if it rains on the day of the company outing? What if the office renovation isn’t done on time? Can we arrange to stay longer in our temporary space? What if that major project isn’t done by Friday at 5PM? Should I bring work home or come in on Saturday? Keeping cool is about brainstorming your options well ahead of time. Conversely, people who lose their cool or become paralyzed do so because they believe they have no options.

When you discover realistic options in any given situation, then you have a variety of workable solutions from which to choose depending on what is going on.

Studies show that the people who function best in a crisis are independent thinkers and know that sometimes it’s smarter to break the rules. On 9/11, hundreds of workers were trapped in the Twin Towers. Security told many of them to stay put and wait to be rescued. Most of the survivors ignored protocol and thought for themselves as they headed down through smoke-filled stairwells.

Has your employer ever fallen ill while out of town on business? She calls at 5PM to tell you she thinks it’s the flu complete with chills and fever. She is scheduled to fly back in the morning. What are your options? Here are just a few.

1. Contact the hotel concierge for a recommendation of a local doctor and call to get an emergency appointment. Arrange transportation because chances are your employer cannot drive herself.

2. Contact your employer’s personal doctor (of course you have a cell phone number for them,) communicate the situation and if the doctor wants to prescribe medication, have a pharmacy number ready (one that delivers.) All police stations know the 24 hour pharmacies in any town if the hotel can’t help you. Use your own credit card for payment if you do not have your employer’s. You will get reimbursed later.

3. Decide with your employer whether to change airline flights. Research what options exist if a change is necessary. Arrange for an airport greeter in order for your employer to have access to the VIP Lounge while waiting for the flight. All airports have greeter services which smooth the way for air travel. Average cost is $75/greet and vary from airport to airport.

4. Suggest going to the Emergency Room if your employer’s illness is acute or getting worse. Involve the hotel manager for assistance. Give everyone your cell phone number. Write down names and cell phone numbers of everyone with whom you speak.

Exercise: Think about any crisis you have weathered in your career and/or life when you lost your cool. Replay it and decide what options you should have explored. Hindsight is a terrific teaching tool if we choose to learn from these experiences. I call analyzing what went right and what went wrong a “post-mortem.” Write down what could have been done better, faster, more efficiently and file this information with the details of that particular event for reference the next time you are dealing with something similar.

Handling a crisis with ease, grace and cool is a cumulative process. The more experience you have, the better you will get at it and the easier time you will have coming up with Plans A, B, and C at a moment’s notice.

So when people around you are crying, yelling, and stomping, you are calmly processing the available information and asking pertinent, relevant, and to-the-point questions. You communicate options and delegate responsibility to the appropriate people. I call this “administrative triage.” Your cool head helps to keep everyone else calm because they know someone is in charge. That’s you.

Bonnie Low-Kramen is the founder of Ultimate Assistant Training and is one of the most respected thought leaders on workplace issues. She is a TEDx speaker, bestselling author of Be the Ultimate Assistant and Staff Matters, and her work has been featured ... (Read More)

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